OPEN Foundation

L. Reed

Ketamine normalizes brain activity during emotionally valenced attentional processing in depression



An urgent need exists for faster-acting pharmacological treatments in major depressive disorder (MDD). The glutamatergic modulator ketamine has been shown to have rapid antidepressant effects, but much remains unknown about its mechanism of action. Functional MRI (fMRI) can be used to investigate how ketamine impacts brain activity during cognitive and emotional processing.


This double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study of 33 unmedicated participants with MDD and 26 healthy controls (HCs) examined how ketamine affected fMRI activation during an attentional bias dot probe task with emotional face stimuli across multiple time points. A whole brain analysis was conducted to find regions with differential activation associated with group, drug session, or dot probe task-specific factors (emotional valence and congruency of stimuli).


A drug session by group interaction was observed in several brain regions, such that ketamine had opposite effects on brain activation in MDD versus HC participants. Additionally, there was a similar finding related to emotional valence (a drug session by group by emotion interaction) in a large cluster in the anterior cingulate and medial frontal cortex.


The findings show a pattern of brain activity in MDD participants following ketamine infusion that is similar to activity observed in HCs after placebo. This suggests that ketamine may act as an antidepressant by normalizing brain function during emotionally valenced attentional processing.



Reed, J. L., Nugent, A. C., Furey, M. L., Szczepanik, J. E., Evans, J. W., & Zarate Jr, C. A. (2018). Ketamine normalizes brain activity during emotionally valenced attentional processing in depression. NeuroImage: Clinical20, 92-101., 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.07.006
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Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin


Psychedelic drugs have a long history of use in healing ceremonies, but despite renewed interest in their therapeutic potential, we continue to know very little about how they work in the brain. Here we used psilocybin, a classic psychedelic found in magic mushrooms, and a task-free functional MRI (fMRI) protocol designed to capture the transition from normal waking consciousness to the psychedelic state. Arterial spin labeling perfusion and blood-oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI were used to map cerebral blood flow and changes in venous oxygenation before and after intravenous infusions of placebo and psilocybin. Fifteen healthy volunteers were scanned with arterial spin labeling and a separate 15 with BOLD. As predicted, profound changes in consciousness were observed after psilocybin, but surprisingly, only decreases in cerebral blood flow and BOLD signal were seen, and these were maximal in hub regions, such as the thalamus and anterior and posterior cingulate cortex (ACC and PCC). Decreased activity in the ACC/medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) was a consistent finding and the magnitude of this decrease predicted the intensity of the subjective effects. Based on these results, a seed-based pharmaco-physiological interaction/functional connectivity analysis was performed using a medial prefrontal seed. Psilocybin caused a significant decrease in the positive coupling between the mPFC and PCC. These results strongly imply that the subjective effects of psychedelic drugs are caused by decreased activity and connectivity in the brain’s key connector hubs, enabling a state of unconstrained cognition.

Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Williams, T., Stone, J. M., Reed, L. J., Colasanti, A., … Nutt, D. J. (2012). Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(6), 2138-2143.
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Live Event on 1 June: Bill Richards & Janis Phelps - Intentions, Interpersonal Grounding and Integration in Psychedelic Therapy