Ketamine, a well-known anesthetic used in smaller doses as a party drug, was hailed as a “new hope for depression” in a Time magazine cover story in 2017. Two years later, the arrival of the first ketamine-based antidepressant – the nasal spray esketamine, made by Johnson & Johnson – was applauded as the most exciting development in the treatment of mood disorders in decades.
Yet the US Food and Drug Administration still limits the spray’s use. It is mainly given to depressed patients who have not been helped by other therapies – in part, because the new drug’s mechanism of action is insufficiently understood, leading to concerns over its safety.
Today, a study published in Neuron reveals new details about how ketamine works, paving the way toward the development of safe, effective treatments for depression. The research was conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, in collaboration with the Helmholtz Zentrum, Munich.