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Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Feb 15;63(4):349-52. Epub 2007 Jul 23.

Cellular mechanisms underlying the antidepressant effects of ketamine: role of alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid receptors.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology and Experimental Therapeutics, Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.



Ketamine exerts a robust, rapid, and relatively sustained antidepressant effect in patients with major depression. Understanding the mechanisms underlying the intriguing effects of N-methyl d-aspartate (NMDA) antagonists could lead to novel treatments with a rapid onset of action.


The learned helplessness, forced swim, and passive avoidance tests were used to investigate ketamine's behavioral effects in mice. Additional biochemical and behavioral experiments were undertaken to determine whether the antidepressant-like properties of ketamine and other NMDA antagonists involve alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) receptor throughput.


Subanesthetic doses of ketamine treatment caused acute and sustained antidepressant-like effects. At these doses, ketamine did not impair fear memory retention. MK-801 (dizocilpine) and Ro25-6981, an NR2B selective antagonist, also exerted antidepressant-like effects; these effects, however, were not sustained as long as those of ketamine. Pre-treatment with NBQX, an AMPA receptor antagonist, attenuated both ketamine-induced antidepressant-like behavior and regulation of hippocampal phosphorylated GluR1 AMPA receptors.


NMDA antagonists might exert rapid antidepressant-like effects by enhancing AMPA relative to NMDA throughput in critical neuronal circuits.

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