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Papers of the Week

January 27, 2023



Ketamine and serotonergic psychedelics: An update on the mechanisms and biosignatures underlying rapid-acting antidepressant treatment.


Johnston JN, Kadriu B, Allen J, Gilbert JR, Henter ID, Zarate CA
Neuropharmacology. 2023 Jan 13:109422.
PMID: 36646310.


The discovery of ketamine as a rapid-acting antidepressant spurred significant research to understand its underlying mechanisms of action and to identify other novel compounds that may act similarly. Serotonergic psychedelics (SPs) have shown initial promise in treating depression, though the challenge of conducting randomized controlled trials with SPs and the necessity of long-term clinical observation are important limitations. This review summarizes the similarities and differences between the psychoactive effects associated with both ketamine and SPs and the mechanisms of action of these compounds, with a focus on the monoaminergic, glutamatergic, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic, opioid, and inflammatory systems. Both molecular and neuroimaging aspects are considered. While their main mechanisms of action differ-SPs increase serotonergic signaling while ketamine is a glutamatergic modulator-evidence suggests that the downstream mechanisms of action of both ketamine and SPs include mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling and downstream GABA receptor activity. The similarities in downstream mechanisms may explain why ketamine, and potentially SPs, exert rapid-acting antidepressant effects. However, research on SPs is still in its infancy compared to the ongoing research that has been conducted with ketamine. For both therapeutics, issues with regulation and proper controls should be addressed before more widespread implementation.