Protocol for the insight study: a randomised controlled trial of single-dose tocilizumab in patients with depression and low-grade inflammation

Golam M Khandaker, Bianca P Oltean, Muzaffer Kaser, Claire R M Dibben, Rajini Ramana, Deepak R Jadon, Robert Dantzer, Alasdair J Coles, Glyn Lewis, Peter B Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


INTRODUCTION: Observational studies indicate a potentially causal role for interleukin 6 (IL-6), a proinflammatory cytokine, in pathogenesis of depression, but interventional studies based on patients with depression have not been conducted. Tocilizumab, anti-inflammatory drug, is a humanised monoclonal antibody that inhibits IL-6 signalling and is licensed in the UK for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The main objectives of this study are to test whether IL-6 contributes to the pathogenesis of depression and to examine potential mechanisms by which IL-6 affects mood and cognition. A secondary objective is to compare depressed participants with and without evidence of low-grade systemic inflammation.

METHODS AND ANALYSIS: This is a proof-of-concept, randomised, parallel-group, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Approximately 50 participants with International Classification of Diseases 10th revision (ICD-10) diagnosis of depression who have evidence of low-grade inflammation, defined as serum high-sensitivity C reactive protein (hs-CRP) level ≥3 mg/L, will receive either a single intravenous infusion of tocilizumab or normal saline. Blood samples, behavioural and cognitive measures will be collected at baseline and after infusion around day 7, 14 and 28. The primary outcome is somatic symptoms score around day 14 postinfusion. In addition, approximately, 50 depressed participants without low-grade inflammation (serum hs-CRP level <3 mg/L) will complete the same baseline assessments as the randomised cohort.

ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: The study has been approved by the South Central-Oxford B Research Ethics Committee (REC) (Reference: 18/SC/0118). Study findings will be published in peer-review journals. Findings will be also disseminated by conference/departmental presentations and by social and traditional media.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e025333
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2018


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized/administration & dosage
  • Biomarkers/blood
  • C-Reactive Protein/metabolism
  • Cognition/drug effects
  • Depressive Disorder/drug therapy
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Inflammation/complications
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Proof of Concept Study
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6/antagonists & inhibitors
  • Treatment Outcome


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