Memantine for autism spectrum disorder (Review)

Amanda Brignell, Catherine Marraffa, Katrina Williams, Tamara May

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD; also known as autism) is a developmental disability that begins in childhood and is typically seen in around 1% to 2% of children. It is characterised by social communication difficulties and repetitive and restricted behaviours and routines that can have a negative impact on a child's quality of life, achievement at school, and social interactions with others. It has been hypothesised that memantine, which is traditionally used to treat dementia, may be effective in reducing the core symptoms of autism as well as some co-occurring symptoms such as hyperactivity and language difficulties. If memantine is being used to treat the core symptoms of autism, it is important to review the evidence of its effectiveness. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of memantine on the core symptoms of autism, including, but not limited to, social communication and stereotypical behaviours. SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, nine other databases and three trials registers up to February 2022. We also checked reference lists of key studies and checked with experts in the field for any additional papers. We searched for retractions of the included studies in MEDLINE, Embase, and the Retraction Watch Database. No retractions or corrections were found. SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of any dose of memantine compared with placebo in autistic people. We also included RCTs in which only one group received memantine, but both groups received the same additional therapy (e.g. a behaviour intervention). DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard Cochrane methods. Our primary outcomes were core autism symptoms and adverse effects. Secondary outcomes were language, intelligence, memory, adaptive behaviour, hyperactivity, and irritability. We used GRADE to assess certainty of evidence. MAIN RESULTS: We included three RCTs (two double-blind and one single-blind) with 204 participants that examined the short-term effect (immediately postintervention) of memantine in autistic people. Two studies took place in the USA and the other in Iran. All three studies focused on children and adolescents, with a mean age of 9.40 (standard deviation (SD) 2.26) years. Most participants were male (range across studies 73% to 87%). The diagnosis of ASD was based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition; 4th edition, text revision; or 5th edition). To confirm the diagnosis, one study used the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R); one used ADOS, ADI-R or the Autism Diagnostic Interview Screener; and one used the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale. Dosage of memantine was based on the child's weight and ranged from 3 mg to 15 mg per day.  Comparisons  Two studies examined memantine compared with placebo; in the other study, both groups had a behavioural intervention while only one group was given memantine.  Risk of bias All studies were rated at high risk of bias overall, as they were at high or unclear risk of bias across all but four domains in one study, and all but two domains in the other two studies. One study was funded by Forest Laboratories, LLC, (Jersey City, New Jersey), Allergan. The study sponsor was involved in the study design, data collection (via contracted clinical investigator sites), analysis and interpretation of data, and the decision to present these results. The other two studies reported no financial support or sponsorship; though in one of the two, the study medication was an in-kind contribution from Forest Pharmaceuticals. Primary outcomes There was no clear evidence of a difference between memantine and placebo with respect to severity of core symptoms of autism, although we are very uncertain about the evidence. The standardised mean difference in autism symptoms score in the intervention group versus the control group was -0.74 standard deviations (95% confidence interval (CI) -2.07 to 0.58; 2 studies, 181 participants; very low-certainty evidence; medium effect size); lower scores indicate less severe autistic symptoms. Two studies (144 participants) recorded adverse effects that the authors deemed related to the study and found there may be no difference between memantine and placebo (odds ratio (OR) 0.64, 95% CI 0.17 to 2.39; low-certainty evidence). Secondary outcomes There may be no difference between memantine and placebo on language (2 studies, 144 participants; low-certainty evidence); memory or adaptive behaviour (1 study, 23 participants; both low-certainty evidence); or hyperactivity or irritability (1 study, 121 participants; both low-certainty evidence). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: It is unclear whether memantine is an effective treatment for autistic children. None of the three included trials reported on the effectiveness of memantine in adults. Further studies using rigorous designs, larger samples, longer follow-up and clinically meaningful outcome measures that are important to autistic people and their families will strengthen our knowledge of the effects of memantine in autism.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD013845
Number of pages70
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2022

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