'Publication bias' casts doubt on value of antidepressants for autism

April 23, 2012 By Jenifer Goodwin, HealthDay Reporter
'Publication bias' casts doubt on value of antidepressants for autism
Studies showing ineffectiveness less likely to get published, new study finds.

(HealthDay) -- Studies that show a type of antidepressant eases autism symptoms are more likely to get published in medical journals than studies concluding the drugs don't improve common behaviors such as rocking and hand-flapping, new research says.

That "" may mean that physicians believe the medications -- known as (SSRIs) -- are more effective than they really are for children with these behaviors. Indeed, when researchers combined the data from published studies and those that never made it into print, the new analysis showed that SSRIs don't help repetitive behaviors much at all.

"At least from what we have right now, we need more information to determine if SSRIs are useful in treating ," said study author Melisa Carrasco, of the neuroscience graduate program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "I don't think we're trying to say they should not be used at all in . There is some compelling evidence toward their use in treating in autism."

The study, in the May print issue of Pediatrics, appears online April 23.

The study also calls into question the effectiveness of current methods used to evaluate drugs, particularly pediatric drugs, in the United States. One expert said the findings have implications for countless other for other conditions.

It's long been recognized that drug trials that show the drug is effective are more likely to be published in peer-reviewed journals, where the results are widely read and disseminated to doctors, said Dr. Scott Denne, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, who wrote an accompanying editorial.

"Positive studies are exciting and potentially groundbreaking. Negative studies are not particularly exciting and at least in the estimation of both physicians and investigators, they don't really change anything, even though that isn't necessarily true," Denne said.

Current U.S. law requires that investigators submit a summary of the results of drug trials on ClinicalTrials.gov, a national registry of clinical studies. But often, researchers don't submit their results, and the information is never published on the government website, he said.

"A substantial number of trials are not having the results posted anywhere," Denne said. This deprives pediatric researchers and the public of valuable information, and may mean that trials are unnecessarily repeated.

Carrasco and her colleagues searched PubMed (a U.S. National Institutes of Health database) and ClinicalTrials.gov for randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials (considered the gold standard of research) on using SSRIs to treat repetitive behavior in people with autism. Researchers identified five published trials and five unpublished trials marked as completed on ClinicalTrials.gov.

A meta-analysis (pooled analysis) of the published studies found a small but significant improvement in repetitive behaviors, including obsessions and compulsions, among autistic kids treated with SSRIs. When the unpublished studies were included, that benefit vanished.

About one in 88 U.S. children has autism, a neurodevelopment disorder characterized by problems with social interaction, communication and restricted interests and behaviors. That includes repetitive behaviors, such as arm-flapping or head-banging; having an obsessive interest in one topic; having a need to stick to a specific ritual or routine; and experiencing distress or agitation when that routine gets disrupted.

Explore further: Repetitive behaviors in adults with Autism Spectrum disorders significantly lessen with antidepressant treatment

More information: To learn more about autism treatments, visit Autism Speaks.

Related Stories

Repetitive behaviors in adults with Autism Spectrum disorders significantly lessen with antidepressant treatment

December 5, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Restricted, repetitive behavior, such as compulsive arranging and rigid adherence to routines, is a defining symptom of autism spectrum disorders.

Many NIH-funded clinical trials go unpublished over two years after completion

January 4, 2012
In a study that investigates the challenges of disseminating clinical research findings in peer-reviewed biomedical journals, Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that fewer than half of a sample of trials primarily ...

Recommended for you

Faulty cell signaling derails cerebral cortex development, could it lead to autism?

September 20, 2017
As the embryonic brain develops, an incredibly complex cascade of cellular events occur, starting with progenitors - the originating cells that generate neurons and spur proper cortex development. If this cascade malfunctions ...

Predicting atypical development in infants at high risk for autism?

September 12, 2017
New research from the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) identifies a potential biomarker that predicts atypical development in 1- to 2-month-old infants at high ...

Study identifies new genetic risk factor for developing autism spectrum disorder

September 1, 2017
Autism spectrum disorder affects approximately one out of every 68 children in the United States. Despite expansive study, the origin and risk factors of the complex condition are not fully understood.

Scientists make autism advance using monkey model

August 21, 2017
Autism is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social communication and restricted and repetitive behavior or interests. The reported prevalence of autism has been rising worldwide. Due to the application ...

High quality early intervention for children with autism quickly results in costs savings

August 8, 2017
One in every 68 children in the United States has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neuro-developmental disorder that results in difficulty socializing and communicating needs and desires, and often is accompanied by restricted ...

Research identifies effects of cognitive behaviour therapy on parents of children with autism

August 1, 2017
Parents of children with autism experience a greater impact from their child's therapy than once thought, according to new research out of York University's Faculty of Health.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.