The mystery of depression deepens as a new study finds no change in
brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels as patients improve following
Researchers at the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) previously showed in clinical studies that
ketamine, an anesthetic given by intravenous (IV) infusion, has a rapid
antidepressant effect in a subgroup of patients with treatment-resistant major
depressive disorder. Meanwhile, a body of research evidence links decreased
levels of BDNF in the brain and peripheral blood with major depression. For
example, antidepressants have been shown to regulate BDNF levels, and some
studies have found that patients with depression have lower BDNF levels in
peripheral blood than do control subjects.
In a new study published September 19 in the online Journal of Clinical
Psychiatry, the same group of NIMH scientists demonstrated that the
antidepressant action of ketamine appears to bypass BDNF altogether.
The authors gave a single dose of ketamine IV infusion at 0.5 mg/kg to 23
adult patients with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and measured
their BDNF level in blood at 60 minutes before and 40, 80, 120, and 230
minutes after ketamine infusion. Treatment resistance was defined as failing
at least two adequate trials of antidepressants.
Eleven of the 23 patients were deemed treatment responders, defined as
having at least a 50 percent reduction from baseline in the Montgomery-Asberg
Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) total score at two hours after the infusion.
No significant change in BDNF levels was observed in either the responders or
the nonresponders during the study, which was carried out between October 2006
and May 2008. The authors found no statistical correlation between the MADRS
score and BDNF level at any time point.
The rapid therapeutic effect of ketamine is thought to involve the
immediate activation of a glutamatergic receptor known as AMPA receptor. How
this pathway and BDNF fit into the picture of the neurochemical process of
depression is not yet understood. "Further studies in this area are
urgently needed," the authors wrote. ▪