OPEN Foundation

R. Salas

Habenula Connectivity and Intravenous Ketamine in Treatment-Resistant Depression


Background: Ketamine’s potent and rapid antidepressant properties have shown great promise to treat severe forms of major depressive disorder (MDD). A recently hypothesized antidepressant mechanism of action of ketamine is the inhibition of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-dependent bursting activity of the habenula (Hb), a small brain structure that modulates reward and affective states.

Methods: Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was conducted in 35 patients with MDD at baseline and 24 hours following treatment with i.v. ketamine. A seed-to-voxel functional connectivity (FC) analysis was performed with the Hb as a seed-of-interest. Pre-post changes in FC and the associations between changes in FC of the Hb and depressive symptom severity were examined.

Results: A reduction in Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale scores from baseline to 24 hours after ketamine infusion was associated with increased FC between the right Hb and a cluster in the right frontal pole (t = 4.65, P = .03, false discovery rate [FDR]-corrected). A reduction in Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Self Report score following ketamine was associated with increased FC between the right Hb and clusters in the right occipital pole (t = 5.18, P < .0001, FDR-corrected), right temporal pole (t = 4.97, P < .0001, FDR-corrected), right parahippocampal gyrus (t = 5.80, P = .001, FDR-corrected), and left lateral occipital cortex (t = 4.73, P = .03, FDR-corrected). Given the small size of the Hb, it is possible that peri-habenular regions contributed to the results.

Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest that the Hb might be involved in ketamine’s antidepressant action in patients with MDD, although these findings are limited by the lack of a control group.

Rivas-Grajales, A. M., Salas, R., Robinson, M. E., Qi, K., Murrough, J. W., & Mathew, S. J. (2021). Habenula Connectivity and Intravenous Ketamine in Treatment-Resistant Depression. The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology, 24(5), 383–391.

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Prefrontal Connectivity and Glutamate Transmission: Relevance to Depression Pathophysiology and Ketamine Treatment



Prefrontal global brain connectivity with global signal regression (GBCr) was proposed as a robust biomarker of depression and was associated with ketamine’s mechanism of action. Here, we investigated prefrontal GBCr in treatment-resistant depression (TRD) at baseline and following treatment. Then, we conducted a set of pharmacological challenges in healthy subjects to investigate the glutamate neurotransmission correlates of GBCr.


In the cohort A study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare GBCr between 22 patients with TRD and 29 healthy control subjects. Then, we examined the effects of ketamine and midazolam on GBCr in patients with TRD 24 hours posttreatment. In the cohort B study, we acquired repeated functional magnetic resonance imaging in 18 healthy subjects to determine the effects of lamotrigine (a glutamate release inhibitor), ketamine, and lamotrigine-by-ketamine interaction.


In the cohort A study, patients with TRD showed significant reduction in dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal GBCr compared with healthy control subjects. In patients with TRD, GBCr in the altered clusters significantly increased 24 hours following ketamine (effect size = 1.0, confidence interval = 0.3 to 1.8) but not following midazolam (effect size = 0.5, confidence interval = −0.6 to 1.3). In the cohort B study, oral lamotrigine reduced GBCr 2 hours postadministration, while ketamine increased medial prefrontal GBCr during infusion. Lamotrigine significantly reduced the ketamine-induced GBCr surge. Exploratory analyses showed elevated ventral prefrontal GBCr in TRD and significant reduction of ventral prefrontal GBCr during ketamine infusion in healthy subjects.


This study provides the first replication of the ability of ketamine to normalize depression-related prefrontal dysconnectivity. It also provides indirect evidence that these effects may be triggered by the capacity of ketamine to enhance glutamate neurotransmission.

Abdallah, C. G., Averill, C. L., Salas, R., Averill, L. A., Baldwin, P. R., Krystal, J. H., … & Mathalon, D. H. (2017). Prefrontal Connectivity & Glutamate Transmission: Relevance to Depression Pathophysiology and Ketamine Treatment. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. 10.1016/j.bpsc.2017.04.006
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The Nucleus Accumbens and Ketamine Treatment in Major Depressive Disorder


Animal models of depression repeatedly showed stress-induced nucleus accumbens (NAc) hypertrophy. Recently, ketamine was found to normalize this stress-induced NAc structural growth. Here, we investigated NAc structural abnormalities in major depressive disorder (MDD) in two cohorts. Cohort A included a cross-sectional sample of 34 MDD and 26 healthy control (HC) subjects, with high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to estimate NAc volumes. Proton MR spectroscopy (1H MRS) was used to divide MDD subjects into two subgroups: glutamate-based depression (GBD) and non-GBD. A separate longitudinal sample (cohort B) included 16 MDD patients who underwent MRI at baseline then 24 h following intravenous infusion of ketamine (0.5 mg/kg). In cohort A, we found larger left NAc volume in MDD compared to controls (Cohen’s d=1.05), but no significant enlargement in the right NAc (d=0.44). Follow-up analyses revealed significant subgrouping effects on the left (d⩾1.48) and right NAc (d⩾0.95) with larger bilateral NAc in non-GBD compared to GBD and HC. NAc volumes were not different between GBD and HC. In cohort B, ketamine treatment reduced left NAc, but increased left hippocampal, volumes in patients achieving remission. The cross-sectional data provided the first evidence of enlarged NAc in patients with MDD. These NAc abnormalities were limited to patients with non-GBD. The pilot longitudinal data revealed a pattern of normalization of left NAc and hippocampal volumes particularly in patients who achieved remission following ketamine treatment, an intriguing preliminary finding that awaits replication.
Abdallah, C. G., Jackowski, A., Salas, R., Gupta, S., Sato, J. R., Mao, X., … & Mathew, S. J. (2017). The nucleus accumbens and ketamine treatment in major depressive disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology1, 8. 10.1038/npp.2017.49
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