OPEN Foundation

Y. Zhang

Neurocognitive effects of six ketamine infusions and the association with antidepressant response in patients with unipolar and bipolar depression



Ketamine has proven to have rapid, robust antidepressant effects on treatment-resistant depression. However, whether repeated ketamine infusions would cause short-and long-term neurocognitive impairments was not clear. Our aims were to investigate the neurocognitive effects of six ketamine infusions and to examine the association between these infusions and the antidepressant response in patients with unipolar and bipolar depression.


Six intravenous infusions of ketamine (0.5 mg/kg) over a 12-day period were administered to 84 patients with unipolar and bipolar depression. Severity of depressive symptoms and four domains of neurocognition, including speed of processing, working memory, visual learning and verbal learning, were assessed at baseline, one day following the last infusion and again two weeks post-infusion.


Significant improvements were found on speed of processing ( F=9.344, p<0.001) and verbal learning ( F=5.647, p=0.004) in a linear mixed model. The Sobel test showed significant indirect effects between time and improvement in speed of processing (Sobel test=3.573, p<0.001) as well as improvement in verbal learning (Sobel test=6.649, p<0.001), which were both significantly mediated by change in depressive symptoms. Logistic regression analysis showed ketamine responders had better visual learning at baseline than non-responders (B=0.118, p<0.001).


Our findings suggest that neurocognitive function would not deteriorate after six ketamine infusions, while verbal learning and speed of processing improved over 13 days and 26 days of observation, respectively. However, this change was mainly accounted for by improvements in severity of depressive symptoms over time. Greater baseline visual learning predicted an antidepressant response over six ketamine infusions.

Zhou, Y., Zheng, W., Liu, W., Wang, C., Zhan, Y., Li, H., … & Ning, Y. (2018). Neurocognitive effects of six ketamine infusions and the association with antidepressant response in patients with unipolar and bipolar depression. Journal of Psychopharmacology32(10), 1118-1126, 10.1177/0269881118798614
Link to full text

Harmines inhibit cancer cell growth through coordinated activation of apoptosis and inhibition of autophagy


Harmine and its analogs have long been considered as anticancer agents. In vitro analyses suggested that intercalating DNA or inhibiting topoisomerase might contribute to the cytotoxic effect of this class of compound. However, this idea has not been rigorously tested in intact cells. By synthesizing novel derivatives, here we demonstrate that harmines did not activate the DNA damage response, a cellular signaling commonly induced by agents that intercalate DNA or inhibit topoisomerase. These findings suggest that mechanisms other than DNA intercalating or topoisomerase inhibiting contribute to the toxicity of harmines in vivo. Using a novel N2-benzyl and N9-arylated alkyl compound 10f that has good solubility and stability as the model, we show that harmines strongly inhibited the growth of cancer cells originated from breast, lung, bone and pancreas, but not that of normal fibroblasts. We further show that 10f induced apoptosis and inhibited autophagy in a dose and time-dependent manner. An apoptosis inhibitor suppressed 10f-induced cell death. Together, our results reveal previously unidentified insights into the anticancer mechanism of harmines, supporting future development of this compound class in the treatment of human cancers.
Geng, X., Ren, Y., Wang, F., Tian, D., Yao, X., Zhang, Y., & Tang, J. (2018). Harmines inhibit cancer cell growth through coordinated activation of apoptosis and inhibition of autophagy. Biochemical and biophysical research communications498(1), 99-104. 10.1016/j.bbrc.2018.02.205
Link to full text

Risks Associated with Misuse of Ketamine as a Rapid-Acting Antidepressant


Major depression is a serious psychiatric disorder and remains a leading cause of disability worldwide. Conventional antidepressants take at least several weeks to achieve a therapeutic response and this lag period has hindered their ability to attain beneficial effects in depressed individuals at high risk of suicide. The non-competitive N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptor antagonist ketamine has been shown to have rapid antidepressant effects in both rodents and humans. The emergence of ketamine as a fast-acting antidepressant provides promising new insights into the development of a rapid treatment response in patients with clinical depression. However, its safety and toxicity remain a concern. In this review, we focus on the limitations of ketamine, including neurotoxicity, cognitive dysfunction, adverse events associated with mental status, psychotomimetic effects, cardiovascular events, and uropathic effects. Studies have shown that its safety and tolerability profiles are generally good at low doses and with short-term treatment in depressed patients. The adverse events associated with ketamine usually occur with very high doses that are administered for prolonged periods of time and can be relieved by cessation. The antidepressant actions of its two enantiomers, S-ketamine (esketamine) and R-ketamine, are also discussed. R-ketamine has greater antidepressant actions than S-ketamine, without ketamine-related side-effects. Future treatment strategies should consider using R-ketamine for the treatment of depressed patients to decrease the risk of adverse events associated with long-term ketamine use.

Zhu, W., Ding, Z., Zhang, Y., Shi, J., Hashimoto, K., & Lu, L. (2016). Risks associated with misuse of ketamine as a rapid-acting antidepressant. Neuroscience Bulletin, 32(6), 557-564. 10.1007/s12264-016-0081-2

Link to full text

22 May - Delivering Effective Psychedelic Clinical Trials