An online experimental medicine trial on the effect of 28-day simvastatin administration on emotional processing, reward learning, working memory and salivary cortisol in healthy volunteers at risk for depression: OxSTEP protocol.
Waters S., De Giorgi R., Quinton AMG., Gillespie AL., Murphy SE., Cowen PJ., Harmer CJ.
BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests inflammation may be a key mechanism by which psychosocial stress, including loneliness, predisposes to depression. Observational and clinical studies have suggested simvastatin, with its anti-inflammatory properties, may have a potential use in the treatment of depression. Previous experimental medicine trials investigating 7-day use of statins showed conflicting results, with simvastatin displaying a more positive effect on emotional processing compared with atorvastatin. It is possible that statins require longer administration in predisposed individuals before showing the expected positive effects on emotional processing. AIMS: Here, we aim to test the neuropsychological effects of 28-day simvastatin administration versus placebo, in healthy volunteers at risk for depression owing to loneliness. METHOD: This is a remote experimental medicine study. One hundred participants across the UK will be recruited and randomised to either 28-day 20 mg simvastatin or placebo in a double-blind fashion. Before and after administration, participants will complete an online testing session involving tasks of emotional processing and reward learning, processes related to vulnerability to depression. Working memory will also be assessed and waking salivary cortisol samples will be collected. The primary outcome will be accuracy in identifying emotions in a facial expression recognition task, comparing the two groups across time.