Background: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are amongst the most prescribed antidepressants for adolescents with depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder. However, SSRIs have significant shortcomings as a first-line treatment considering that not all patients respond to these antidepressants. Amongst paediatric populations, meta-analyses indicate that up to approximately 40% of patients do not respond, and for those who do show benefit, there is substantial heterogeneity in response onset. The neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) plays a role in the clinical effectiveness and mechanisms of action of SSRIs. However, the exact and complete mechanism of action and reasons for the low response rate to SSRIs in some adolescent populations remains unknown.
Methods: To examine SSRI response and the role of 5-HT, this study will employ a randomised double-blind within subject, repeated measures design, recruiting adolescent patients with major depressive disorder. Participants will be subjected to acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) and the balanced control condition on two separate study days within a first study phase (Phase A), and the order in which these conditions (ATD/balanced control condition) occur will be random. This phase will be followed by Phase B, where participants will receive open label pharmacological treatment as usual with the SSRI fluoxetine and followed-up over a 12-week period.
Discussion: ATD is a neurodietary method typically used to investigate the impact of lowered brain 5-HT synthesis on mood and behaviour. The major hypothesis of this study is that ATD will be negatively associated with mood and cognitive functioning, therefore reflecting individual serotonergic sensitivity and related depressive symptoms. Additionally, we expect the aforementioned effects of ATD administration on mood to predict clinical improvement with regard to overall depressive symptomatology 12 weeks into SSRI treatment.