Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a highly prevalent illness, affecting over 14 million American adults annually. It was the fourth leading cause of disability globally in 2002, as assessed by disease-adjusted- life years according to the World Health Organization. By 2030, MDD is projected to become the second leading cause of disability as assessed by this measure, second only to HIV/AIDS. In the US, MDD is already the leading cause of disability for ages 15-44, with estimated total annual costs of $US 43.7 billion in 1990. A more recent estimate puts the annual population-level workplace cost of MDD in the US at $36.6 billion, not counting healthcare cost. Compounding the disease burden and the related cost of illness in MDD is the several week delay between initiation of treatment and onset of therapeutic action of currently available treatments. Shortening this delay to clinically significant improvement in antidepressant treatment of MDD is a major unmet challenge. Studies report that a single intravenous sub-anesthetic dose of ketamine (an NMDA receptor antagonist) can bring about full remission in hours, even in treatment-resistant MDD. Aspects of ketamine's mechanism of therapeutic action have been fairly well established. It has been demonstrated that ketamine rapidly activates the mammalian target of rapamycin, mTOR. When mTOR signaling is activated, within minutes a rapid increase in synaptic signaling proteins, the number of new spine dendrites, synaptogenesis, and increased motor activity in animal models of depression ensues. Although many other pathways are activated, these ketamine-induced changes are only stopped when either the AMPA receptors or the downstream mTOR signaling is blocked. This leads to the question of how ketamine activates the AMPA receptors, which are necessary for the activation of mTOR. Our preliminary data suggests that ketamine, by blocking NMDA receptors, induces a robust acute increase (more than 60%) in glutamate (Glu;the endogenous agonist of NMDA and AMPA receptors) and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as measured by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS). We hypothesize that not ketamine directly, but this increase in Glu levels, triggered by blocking the NMDA receptors, is responsible for the activation of AMPA receptors and subsequently mTOR signaling. Studying ketamine's mechanism of action could help optimize the use of ketamine, develop better maintenance strategies, and guide development of other more easily administered medications working through the molecular targets suggested by the results of these experiments. The objective of the proposed project is to study the relationship between the ketamine-induced improvement of MDD and the Glu and GABA responses to ketamine and to compare the Glu and GABA responses to ketamine in MDD and healthy subjects to further elucidate the pathophysiology of MDD. To study this we designed a randomized, placebo-controlled, double- blind study with several different doses of ketamine.

Public Health Relevance

Ketamine, used in a single, low dose, can bring about complete remission of symptoms in major depressive disorder that lasts a week. This project is designed to gain a better understanding of ketamine's mechanism of action by measuring changes in brain chemicals and studying the relationship of these changes with ketamine's antidepressant effect.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Pathophysiological Basis of Mental Disorders and Addictions Study Section (PMDA)
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Hillefors, MI
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Columbia University (N.Y.)
Schools of Medicine
New York
United States
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Rizk, Mina M; Rubin-Falcone, Harry; Lin, Xuejing et al. (2018) Gray matter volumetric study of major depression and suicidal behavior. Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging 283:16-23
Milak, M S; Proper, C J; Mulhern, S T et al. (2016) A pilot in vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study of amino acid neurotransmitter response to ketamine treatment of major depressive disorder. Mol Psychiatry 21:320-7