Ketamine for depression—what we know about how it changes the brain

4-18-2019 a doctor explains how prescribing ketamine for depression works
Image: Zoë Biehl/Psymposia

The FDA’s approval [of ketamine for depression] marks the first genuinely new type of psychiatric drug—for any condition—to be brought to market in more than 30 years.

Although better known as a party drug, the anesthetic ketamine has spurred excitement in psychiatry for almost 20 years, since researchers first showed that it alleviated depression in a matter of hours. The rapid reversal of symptoms contrasted sharply with the existing set of antidepressants, which take weeks to begin working.

Despite this excitement, researchers still don’t know exactly how ketamine exerts its effects. A leading theory proposes that it stimulates regrowth of synapses (connections between neurons), effectively rewiring the brain. Researchers have seen these effects in animals’ brains, but the exact details and timing are elusive.

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new study, from a team led by neuroscientist and psychiatrist Conor Liston at Weill Cornell Medicine, has confirmed that synapse growth is involved, but not in the way many researchers were expecting. Using cutting-edge technology to visualize and manipulate the brains of stressed mice, the study reveals how ketamine first induces changes in brain circuit function, improving “depressed” mice’s behavior within three hours, and only later stimulating regrowth of synapses.

Related article:  Acid redux: Here’s how psychedelics are shaping the next generation of antidepressants

Read full, original post: Behind the Buzz: How Ketamine Changes the Depressed Patient’s Brain

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