Influence of study characteristics, methodological rigour and publication bias on efficacy of pharmacotherapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised, placebo-controlled trials

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QUESTION: We examined the effect of study characteristics, risk of bias and publication bias on the efficacy of pharmacotherapy in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). STUDY SELECTION AND ANALYSIS: We conducted a systematic search of double-blinded, placebo-controlled, short-term RCTs with selective serotonergic reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or clomipramine. We performed a random-effect meta-analysis using change in the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (YBOCS) as the primary outcome. We performed meta-regression for risk of bias, intervention, sponsor status, number of trial arms, use of placebo run-in, dosing, publication year, age, severity, illness duration and gender distribution. Furthermore, we analysed publication bias using a Bayesian selection model. FINDINGS: We screened 3729 articles and included 21 studies, with 4102 participants. Meta-analysis showed an effect size of -0.59 (Hedges' G, 95% CI -0.73 to -0.46), equalling a 4.2-point reduction in the YBOCS compared with placebo. The most recent trial was performed in 2007 and most trials were at risk of bias. We found an indication for publication bias, and subsequent correction for this bias resulted in a depleted effect size. In our meta-regression, we found that high risk of bias was associated with a larger effect size. Clomipramine was more effective than SSRIs, even after correcting for risk of bias. After correction for multiple testing, other selected predictors were non-significant. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings reveal superiority of clomipramine over SSRIs, even after adjusting for risk of bias. Effect sizes may be attenuated when considering publication bias and methodological rigour, emphasising the importance of robust studies to guide clinical utility of OCD pharmacotherapy. PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42023394924.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Mental Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2024


  • Adult psychiatry
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical

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