Several studies have found that ketamine produces a rapid antidepressant effect, reducing suicidal ideation in just hours.
A new study from Northwestern University sheds light on why the benefits are so instantaneous.
Traditional antidepressants work by increasing the number of neurons in the brain, which can take several weeks.
Ketamine, on the other hand, was found to increase activity in newborn neurons, which then activates other cells in the hippocampus.
“This small population of cells acts like a match, starting a fire that ignites a bunch of activity in a lot of other cells that produce the behavioral effects,” says lead study author Dr. John Kessler.
“That’s important because when you give ketamine to patients now, it affects multiple regions of the brain and causes a lot of adverse side effects. But since we now know exactly which cells we want to target, we can design drugs to focus only on those cells.”