The American journal of psychiatry

Synaptic mechanisms underlying rapid antidepressant action of ketamine.

PMID 23534055


Recent clinical studies have demonstrated that a single subpsychotomimetic dose of ketamine, an ionotropic glutamatergic N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, produces a rapid antidepressant response in patients with major depressive disorder, with effects lasting up to 2 weeks. Despite enthusiasm about this unexpected efficacy of ketamine, its widespread use as a fast-acting antidepressant in routine clinical settings is curtailed by its abuse potential as well as possible psychotomimetic effects. However, the ability of ketamine to produce a rapid and long-lasting antidepressant response in patients with depression provides a unique opportunity for investigation of mechanisms that mediate these clinically relevant behavioral effects. From a mechanistic perspective, it is easy to imagine how activation of NMDA receptors may trigger cellular and behavioral responses; it is relatively more difficult, however, to envision how transient blockade of one of the key pathways for neuronal communication produces a persistent beneficial effect. The authors discuss recent work linking ketamine's mechanism of action to homeostatic synaptic plasticity processes activated after suppression of NMDA-mediated glutamatergic neurotransmission. They focus on their recent work demonstrating that ketamine-mediated blockade of NMDA receptors at rest deactivates eukaryotic elongation factor 2 (eEF2) kinase, resulting in reduced eEF2 phosphorylation and desuppression of rapid dendritic protein translation, including BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which then contributes to synaptic plasticity mechanisms that mediate longterm effects of the drug. The authors also explore possible molecular strategies to target spontaneous neurotransmitter release selectively to help uncover novel presynaptic avenues for the development of fast-acting antidepressants and possibly psychoactive compounds with effectiveness against other neuropsychiatric disorders.