The present proposal is concerned with the prediction of individual placebo responses in clinical samples. Here we part from the usual view of placebos as inert control states. On the contrary, it is hypothesized that placebo administration triggers a cascade of events activating endogenous mechanisms that promote homeostasis. This leads to the proposal that a substantial proportion of the variance in placebo responding in CNS trials can be explained by the functional variation of specific neurobiological circuits and mechanisms. We focus on the prediction of placebo effects in patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Episode (MDE), unmedicated at the time of the study. This illness was selected because of its high frequency and chronicity in the general population, but also one that presents with high placebo responses in controlled trials. Half of the subjects will also present with a diagnosis of nicotine dependence, which is expected to reduce placebo responses rates, but also affect the underlying neurobiology, increasing the generalizability of the findings. Non-problem alcohol use will be permitted and entered as a covariate in the analyses. A 3-step process is proposed. Studies using positron emission tomograph will determine the placebo-induced activation of neurotransmitter systems through to be involved in both the pathophysiology of MDE and the effects of expectations. Functional magnetic resonance imaging will be employed to determine the proportion of the variance in placebo effects explained by the function of reward, decision-making and """"""""motivation"""""""" regions. Individual variations in neurotransmitter systems and circuits involved will then be modeled by a combination of neuropsychological tests and the presence of common genetic polymorphisms regulating those regional networks. This proposal therefore addresses the predictability of the placebo effect and its underlying neurobiology. The capacity to utilize internal resources to change clinical conditions (as opposed to traditional therapies that are given or applied to the patient with little individual control) represents both a shift in paradigm and a source of """"""""noise"""""""" in clinical trials. As such, the results of the studies proposed have the potential for lasting impact in the practice of medicine at large. Placebo effects are a common occurrence in clinical trials. Recent data has shown that those may be caused by the effect that expectations have on specific brain mechanisms. Those brain mechanisms may then change the clinical state of the patients. This proposal examines these mechanisms in Major Depression with and without substance use to determine their predictability and application in clinical trials. The NIDA/NIMH/NINDS EUREKA applications were reviewed differently from more traditional NIH grant mechanisms. Specifically, the review process consisted of two phases. During the first (i.e., electronic) phase a selected panel of reviewers were given the following guidelines by which to assess the applications. They were asked to determine whether they: Strongly Agree, Moderately Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Moderately Disagree, or Strongly Disagree with these descriptions. Their ratings and any additional comments are below. These initial ratings also provided the basis for the review panel to determine whether an application would be discussed during an in person meeting. Because of the very stringent review criteria and limited pool of funds set aside for this program, the review panel chose only to discuss applications that garnered the most enthusiasm. The Resume and Summary of the Discussion above summarizes opinions of the in person meeting and forms the basis of the final score. Significance: This study addresses an important problem and the outcome of the proposed studies will drive the field. The potential impact of the proposed research is exceptional, in terms of the magnitude of the impact and the size of the community affected. Innovation: The project is highly original and exceptionally innovative and seriously challenges existing paradigms or clinical practice. The project addresses a major barrier to progress in the field or it develops or employs exceptionally novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, tools, or technologies. Approach: The logic of the approach is sufficiently compelling despite the lack of experimental detail. The conceptual (or clinical) framework, design, methods, and analyses are adequately developed, well integrated and reasoned, and are appropriate for the aims of the project. The applicant acknowledges potential problem areas and considers alternative tactics. The information in the timeline inspires confidence that the PI will be able to document progress in each year of the award and either complete the project or demonstrate conclusively that it cannot be completed, despite good-faith efforts, during the term of the award. The requested duration of the award is appropriate for the proposed research. Investigators: The PD/PI(s) and other key personnel are appropriately trained and well-suited to carry out this work. Past achievements of the PI(s) suggest that the investigator(s) is/are exceptionally innovative and likely to make paradigm-shifting, high-impact discoveries. If the PI does not have a history of doing exceptionally innovative, high-impact research, the logic of the experimental plan suggests that there is at least some likelihood of success. The project is high priority for the PI(s), as indicated by the person-months of effort that the PI(s) will devote to it. For applications designating multiple PDs/PIs, the leadership plan, including the designated roles and responsibilities, governance, and organizational structure, are consistent with and justified by the aims of the project and the expertise of each of the PDs/PIs. Environment: The scientific environment(s), in which the work will be performed, contributes to the probability of success. The proposed studies benefit from unique features of the scientific environment, subject populations, or employ useful collaborative arrangements. There is evidence of institutional support.

Public Health Relevance

Placebo effects are a common ocurrence in clinical trials. Recent data has shown that those may be caused by the effect that expectations have on specific brain mechanisms. Those brain mechanisms may then change the clinical state of the patients. This proposal examines these mechanisms in Major Depression with and without substance use to determine their predictability and application in clinical trials.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-L (05))
Program Officer
Rumsey, Judith M
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Schools of Medicine
Ann Arbor
United States
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Peciña, Marta; Bohnert, Amy S B; Sikora, Magdalena et al. (2015) Association Between Placebo-Activated Neural Systems and Antidepressant Responses: Neurochemistry of Placebo Effects in Major Depression. JAMA Psychiatry 72:1087-94
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