Identification of a serotonin 2a receptor subtype of schizophrenia spectrum disorders with pimavanserin: The sub-sero proofof-concept trial protocol

Olga B. Baltzersen, Herbert Y. Meltzer, Vibe G. Frokjaer, Jayachandra M. Raghava, Lone Baandrup, Birgitte Fagerlund, Henrik B.W. Larsson, H. Christian Fibiger, Birte Y. Glenthøj, Gitte M. Knudsen, Bjørn H. Ebdrup*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: All current approved antipsychotic drugs against schizophrenia spectrum disorders share affinity for the dopamine receptor (D2R). However, up to one-third of these patients respond insufficiently, and in some cases, side-effects outweigh symptom reduction. Previous data have suggested that a subgroup of antipsychotic-naïve patients will respond to serotonin 2A receptor (2AR) blockade. Aims: This investigator-initiated, translational, proof-of-concept study has overall two aims; 1) To test the clinical effectiveness of monotherapy with the newly approved drug against Parkinson's disease psychosis, pimavanserin, in antipsychotic-free patients with first-episode schizophrenia spectrum disorders; 2) To characterize the neurobiological profile of responders to pimavaserin. Materials and Equipment: Forty patients will be enrolled in this 6-week open label, onearmed trial with the selective serotonin 2AR antagonist (pimavanserin 34 mg/day). At baseline, patients will undergo: Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of the serotonin 2AR using the radioligand [¹¹C]Cimbi-36; structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); MR spectroscopy of cerebral glutamate levels and diffusion tensor imaging; cognitive and psychopathological examinations; electrocardiogram, and blood sampling for genetic- and metabolic analyses. Outcome Measures: The primary clinical endpoint will be reduction in the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) positive score. Secondary clinical endpoints comprise multiple clinical ratings (positive and negative symptoms, depressive-, obsessivecompulsive symptoms, quality of life, social functioning, sexual functioning, and side-effects). PET, MRI, and cognitive parameters will be used for in-depth neuropsychiatric characterization of pimavanserin response. Anticipated Results: Clinically, we expect pimavanserin to reduce psychotic symptoms with similar effect as observed with conventional antipsychotics, for which we have comparable historical data. We expect pimavanserin to induce minimal side-effects. Neurobiologically, we expect psychotic symptom reduction to be most prominent in patients with low frontal serotonin 2AR binding potential at baseline. Potential precognitive and brain structural effects of pimavanserin will be explored. Perspectives: Sub-Sero will provide unique information about the role serotonin 2AR in antipsychotic-free, first-episode psychosis. If successful, Sub-Sero will aid identification of a “serotonergic subtype” of schizophrenia spectrum patients, thereby promoting development of precision medicine in clinical psychiatry. Clinical Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials, identifier NCT03994965.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number591
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
StatePublished - 2020


  • Antipsychotic-free
  • Cognition
  • First-episode schizophrenia spectrum patients
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Pimavanserin
  • Psychopathology
  • Serotonin 2A receptor positron emission tomography
  • Side-effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology


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