Ketamine, an anesthesia medication, has shown promise in treating depression, but its exact effects on the brain are unclear. Researchers have now discovered that the drug changes the firing patterns of cells in a pea-size structure hidden away in the center of the brain. This research could explain why ketamine is able to relieve symptoms of depression so quickly. This research may also provide a fresh target for scientists developing new antidepressants.
In clinical trials, ketamine showed to act much faster than existing antidepressants, and it improved symptoms within hours rather than weeks. “People have tried really hard to figure out why it’s working so fast, because understanding this could perhaps lead us to the core mechanism of depression,” says Hailan Hu, a neuroscientist at Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, and a senior author on the new study, ketamine did affect the lateral habenula.