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INTRODUCTION: Pharmacotherapy plays an important role in the treatment of major depression. At the initiation of antidepressant treatment, both improvement of symptoms in the short term and relapse prevention in the long term should be taken into account. However, there is insufficient evidence regarding the efficacy and the acceptability of continuation/maintenance treatments and the relative efficacy/acceptability of antidepressants. OBJECTIVE: We will conduct a pairwise meta-analysis and a network meta-analysis (NMA) to examine the relative efficacy, tolerability and acceptability of antidepressants in the long-term treatment of major depression. METHODS AND ANALYSIS: We will include double-blind randomised controlled trials comparing any of the following antidepressants, which we included in our previous NMA of the acute treatment for major depression, with placebo or with another active drug for long-term treatment of major depression: agomelatine, amitriptyline, bupropion, citalopram, clomipramine, desvenlafaxine, duloxetine, escitalopram, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, levomilnacipran, milnacipran, mirtazapine, nefazodone, paroxetine, reboxetine, sertraline, trazodone, venlafaxine, vilazodone and vortioxetine. Our primary outcomes will be sustained response and all-cause dropouts. We will include four types of designs that are used to investigate long-term treatment. We will conduct two main analyses. First, we will conduct a pairwise meta-analysis comparing all antidepressants versus placebo to investigate whether continuing antidepressants after achieving a positive response in the acute-phase treatment is beneficial and/or safe. Second, we will conduct an NMA to examine the comparative efficacy and acceptability of the drugs. We will use a novel approach that will combine the results of acute-phase treatment NMA with long-term treatment studies to include all related designs in the NMA. We will ensure the validity of combining different designs and our new approach by checking the distribution of important effect modifiers and consistency of network. ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: This study did not require ethical approval. We will disseminate our findings by publishing results in a peer-reviewed journal. PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42018114561; Pre-results.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





antidepressants, depression, long-term treatment, network meta-analysis, relapse prevention, Antidepressive Agents, Depressive Disorder, Major, Double-Blind Method, Humans, Research Design