Scientists will study the dance drug ketamine as a model for creating new anti-depressants after researchers found it works “like magic”.
Although the drug itself cannot be used – because it needs to be delivered intravenously and can cause psychotic symptoms – the key enzyme it contains called mTOR could lead to better treatments for depression.
mTOR controls protein synthesis which is needed to build nerve connections.
Known as “Special K” on the club scene, ketamine improved the mood of depressed patients, who had resisted all other treatments, within hours.
Ketamine quickly induces the regeneration of synaptic connections between nerve cells in the brain, the US study shows.
“It’s like a magic drug,” said Professor Ronald Duman, a psychiatrist at Yale University. “One dose can work rapidly and last for seven to 10 days.”
Most antidepressants, such as Prozac, take weeks or even months to “kick in”. In contrast, ketamine’s effects are felt within hours.
Prof Duman’s team, whose research is reported in the journal Science, mapped the molecular action of the drug on the brains of rats.
The scientists found that ketamine acts on a pathway that rapidly forms new connections between neurons, a process called “synaptogenesis”.
Co-author Professor George Aghajanian, from Yale School of Medicine, said: “The pathway is the story. Understanding the mechanism underlying the antidepressant effect of ketamine will allow us to attack the problem at a variety of possible sites within that pathway.”
Copyright Press Association 2010