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Papers of the Week

Papers: 6 May 2023 - 12 May 2023


Pharmacology/Drug Development


2023 May 03

Pharmacol Ther


The antidepressant actions of ketamine and its enantiomers.


Johnston JN, Henter ID, Zarate CA


Ketamine, an N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antagonist first developed as an anesthetic, has shown significant promise as a medication with rapid antidepressant properties in treatment-resistant depression. However, concerns such as adverse side effects and potential misuse liability have limited its widespread use. Racemic ketamine has two enantiomers-(S)- and (R)-ketamine-that appear to have disparate underlying mechanisms. This brief review summarizes some of the most recent preclinical and clinical research regarding the convergent and divergent prophylactic, immediate, and sustained antidepressant effects of (S)- and (R)-ketamine while addressing potential differences in their side effect and misuse liability profiles. Preclinical research suggests divergent mechanisms underlying (S)- and (R)-ketamine, with (S)-ketamine more directly affecting mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling and (R)-ketamine more directly affecting extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) signaling. Clinical research suggests that (R)-ketamine has a milder side effect profile than (S)-ketamine and decreases depression rating scale scores, but recent randomized, controlled trials found that it had no significant antidepressant efficacy compared to placebo, suggesting that caution is warranted in interpreting its therapeutic potential. Future preclinical and clinical research is needed to maximize the efficacy of each enantiomer, either by optimizing dose, route of administration, or administration paradigm.