OPEN Foundation

Day: 4 May 2016

Depression: Ketamine steps out of the darkness


The way in which ketamine exerts its antidepressant effects has been perplexing. Evidence that a metabolite of the drug is responsible, and acts on a different target from ketamine, might be the key to an answer.

Malinow, R. (2016). Depression: Ketamine steps out of the darkness. Nature.

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Detailed pharmacological evaluation of methoxetamine (MXE), a novel psychoactive ketamine analogue—Behavioural, pharmacokinetic and metabolic studies in the Wistar rat


Methoxetamine (MXE) is a novel psychoactive compound (NPS) that emerged in 2010 as a substitute for the dissociative anaesthetic ketamine. MXE has a reputation of carrying a lower risk of harm than ketamine, however a number of deaths have been reported. Currently very little is known about the psychopharmacological effects of this compound or its toxicity; therefore we tested, in Wistar rats, the effects of MXE in a series of behavioural tasks, measured its pharmacokinetics and urinary metabolites.

Locomotor activity and its spatial characteristics (in the open field) and sensorimotor gating (prepulse inhibition; PPI) were evaluated after 5, 10 and 40 mg/kg subcutaneous (sc.) MXE. Pharmacokinetics and brain: serum ratios were evaluated after 10 mg/kg sc. MXE so that peak drug concentration data could be used to complement interpretation of maximal behavioural effects. Finally, quantification of metabolites in rat urine collected over 24 h was performed after single bolus of MXE 40 mg/kg sc.

5 and 10 mg/kg MXE induced significant locomotor stimulation, in addition it increased thigmotaxis and decreased time spent in the centre of the open field (indicative of anxiogenesis). By contrast, 40 mg/kg reduced locomotion and increased time spent in the centre of the arena, suggesting sedation/anaesthesia or stereotypy. The duration of effects was present for at least 60–90 min, although for 5 mg/kg, locomotion diminished after 60 min. MXE decreased baseline acoustic startle response (ASR) and disrupted PPI, irrespective of testing-onset. MXE (all doses) reduced habituation but only at 60 min. Maximal brain levels of MXE were observed 30 min after administration, remained high at 60 min and progressively declined to around zero after six hours. MXE accumulated in the brain; the brain: serum ratio was between 2.06 and 2.93 throughout the whole observation. The most abundant urinary metabolite was O-desmethylmethoxetamine followed by normethoxetamine.

To conclude, MXE acts behaviourally as a typical dissociative anaesthetic with stimulant and anxiogenic effects at lower doses, sedative/anaesthetic effects at higher doses, and as a disruptor of sensorimotor gating. Its duration of action exceeds that of ketamine which is consistent with reports from MXE users. The accumulation of the drug in brain tissue might reflect MXE’s stronger potency compared to ketamine and indicate increased toxicity.

Horsley, R. R., Lhotkova, E., Hajkova, K., Jurasek, B., Kuchar, M., & Palenicek, T. (2016). Detailed pharmacological evaluation of methoxetamine (MXE), a novel psychoactive ketamine analogue—Behavioural, pharmacokinetic and metabolic studies in the Wistar rat. Brain Research Bulletin.
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NMDAR inhibition-independent antidepressant actions of ketamine metabolites


Major depressive disorder affects around 16 per cent of the world population at some point in their lives. Despite the availability of numerous monoaminergic-based antidepressants, most patients require several weeks, if not months, to respond to these treatments, and many patients never attain sustained remission of their symptoms. The non-competitive, glutamatergic NMDAR (N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor) antagonist (R,S)-ketamine exerts rapid and sustained antidepressant effects after a single dose in patients with depression, but its use is associated with undesirable side effects. Here we show that the metabolism of (R,S)-ketamine to (2S,6S;2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine (HNK) is essential for its antidepressant effects, and that the (2R,6R)-HNK enantiomer exerts behavioural, electroencephalographic, electrophysiological and cellular antidepressant-related actions in mice. These antidepressant actions are independent of NMDAR inhibition but involve early and sustained activation of AMPARs (α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid receptors). We also establish that (2R,6R)-HNK lacks ketamine-related side effects. Our data implicate a novel mechanism underlying the antidepressant properties of (R,S)-ketamine and have relevance for the development of next-generation, rapid-acting antidepressants.

Zanos, P., Moaddel, R., Morris, P. J., Georgiou, P., Fischell, J., Elmer, G. I., … & Dossou, K. S. (2016). NMDAR inhibition-independent antidepressant actions of ketamine metabolites. Nature.
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