Study Provides New Understanding of Ketamine as Treatment For Depression

The treatment of depression is not a quick fix. Individuals who are diagnosed with depression can experience weeks of frustration as they wait for the medication they are prescribed to take effect. The delayed improvement experienced with depression may end in disappointment as some patients may find that the initial drug prescribed is not effective for them, or the side effects outweigh the benefits provided by the drug. One in every three depression patients does not experience relief with traditional antidepressant medications. As a result, researchers have long sought to find a drug that alleviates the symptoms of depression in a more immediate timeline. One drug, ketamine, provides immediate relief for depressive symptoms, but its effectiveness quickly wears off after only a week to ten days. A new study by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine provides new information about the drug ketamine and may lead to new developments for treating depression. It is especially promising for those who have depressive symptoms that are particularly resistant to traditional anti-depressant medications. Ketamine has long challenged clinicians and researchers. It provides immediate relief, but there is a high risk of psychotic episodes and the drug’s effectiveness wears off quickly. Ketamine is normally given to children as an anesthetic. The study’s findings, published in the journal Science, provide evidence that ketamine is effective at regenerating the synaptic connections in the brain damaged by depression or stress. The study provides information long-sought by researchers, showing that the drug activates an area of neurotransmitters in the brain that is not affected by other types of antidepressants. A new understanding of the drug ketamine could lead to new opportunities for treating the millions of people who suffer from chronic depression. Ronald Duman, M.D. a professor of neurobiology and psychology and coauthor of the study says that the finding is the biggest research breakthrough in decades. The medication is known as “Special K” when it is used as a party drug, inducing short-term psychotic episodes when used in large doses. Duman and colleagues showed how ketamine regulates the release of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the growth of synapses. The damage to these synaptic connections caused by stress can be repaired by only one dose of ketamine. While there are developments in research that have produced drugs that mimic the effects of ketamine, the drugs do not take effect as quickly as ketamine. With the new information from the Yale researchers, there may be better medications developed quickly. While ketamine may never be used as an effective long-term treatment for chronic depression, it may lead to developments that provide a significantly more effective and quicker-acting drug than has been possible in the past.

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