Scientists evaluate diabetes drug to treat depression

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are seeking individuals who have depression and are overweight to volunteer for a study evaluating whether a diabetes drug might help improve mood.

The five-year, NIH-funded study seeks 200 people with depression who are overweight and at risk for developing diabetes. Participants will be screened for depression and insulin resistance, one of the first signs of developing diabetes. Those who qualify will be treated and followed for 16 weeks.

“We’ve studied patients who have both diabetes and depression, but now we’re focusing on patients who have insulin resistance rather than type 2 diabetes,” says co-investigator Gregory S. Sayuk, M.D., assistant professor of medicine. “Often these individuals will be overweight or have abnormal blood glucose levels. Those physical traits can affect mood, and we want to better understand how.”

All qualified participants will receive the antidepressant drug sertraline (Zoloft) and diet and exercise counseling. Half will receive additional treatment with a diabetes drug, metformin (Glucophage), while the others will receive an inactive substance called a placebo. After the initial 16 weeks of treatment, the researchers will follow participants whose mood improves for an additional six months to monitor for depression.

“We want to learn whether improving insulin sensitivity with this drug will be associated with better mood over the long term,” says senior investigator Patrick J. Lustman, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry. “There’s a strong relationship between depression and obesity, and obesity contributes to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.”

Volunteers will make 12 office visits, including the initial screening. Previous treatment for depression will not disqualify anyone from the study.

“People who have been treated for depression unsuccessfully are ideal for this,” Sayuk says. “We’re trying to find ways to make traditional treatments better, so if a previous treatment hasn’t worked, it could be that individual needs the extra help that may come from improving sensitivity to the actions of insulin.”

Study medications, medical exams and treatment sessions are free of charge. Volunteers also will be compensated for participating in the screening, whether or not they are selected for the study.

“If it turns out a person’s depression is not serious enough or that they are not insulin resistant, a screening visit will give them valuable information about their risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Lustman says.

For more information, visit To volunteer, call Britt at (314) 362-5404 or e-mail

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.