Response to placebo in fragile x syndrome clinical trials: An initial analysis

Skylar Luu, Haley Province, Elizabeth Berry-Kravis, Randi Hagerman, David Hessl, Dhananjay Vaidya, Reymundo Lozano, Hilary Rosselot, Craig Erickson, Walter E. Kaufmann, Dejan B. Budimirovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the leading cause of inherited intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. Individuals with FXS often present with a wide range of cognitive deficits and problem behaviors. Educational, behavioral and pharmacological interventions are used to manage these and other complex issues affecting individuals with FXS. Despite the success of preclinical models and early-phase drug clinical studies in FXS, large-scale randomized-controlled trials have failed to meet primary endpoints. Currently, no targeted or disease-modifying treatments for FXS have received regulatory approval. Here, we examined the placebo response in FXS clinical trials conducted between 2006 and 2018. Specifically, we performed a meta-analysis of placebo-treated groups in eight double-blind, randomized controlled trials. Placebo groups demonstrated significant improvements on caregiver-rated efficacy endpoints, which were greater in adolescents and adults than in children. Among the latter measures, the Visual Analog Scale scores displayed the greatest improvements, whereas the positive effects on the Vineland-II Adaptive Behavior Composite and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community/fragile X version were statistically significant in both children and adolescents/adults. Although the Clinical Global Impression scale Improvement appears to have exhibited a substantial placebo effect in multiple clinical trials in FXS, limited data availability for meta-analysis, prevented us from drawing conclusions. No placebo-related improvements were observed in performance-rated measures. These findings raise substantial concerns about placebo effects in outcome measures commonly used in the randomized-controlled trials in FXS and suggest several potential improvements in the study design and implementation of such trials. Considering the small number of trials available for this study, larger and more detailed follow up meta-analyses are needed. Meanwhile, efforts to improve the measurement properties of endpoints and rater training in drug trials in FXS should be prioritized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number629
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Clinical trials placebo effect
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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