Study shows how 'horse tranquiliser' stops depression

May 02, 2008

Researchers have shown exactly how the anaesthetic ketamine helps depression with images that show the orbitofrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is overactive in depression – being ‘switched off’.

Ketamine, an anaesthetic that is popular with doctors on the battlefield and also with vets because it allows a degree of awareness without pain, is a new hope for the treatment of depression – but the minute-by-minute images produced by Professor Bill Deakin and his team show how the drug achieves this in an unexpected way.

The drug deactivates the orbitofrontal cortex – located above the eyes, in the centre – which is thought to give rise to highly emotional thoughts such as guilt and feelings of worthlessness and causes reactions in visceral body parts such as a churning stomach and a racing heart.

Professor Deakin, of the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, said: “We were surprised to see it working on that part of the brain. We expected to see it work on the parts that control psychosis, at the sides of the brain. There was some activity there but more striking was the switching off of the depression centre.”

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, sought to identify the sites of action of ketamine but also the release of glutamate turned out to be important in ketamine’s effects and this could point to new quick treatments to get people out of severe or long-standing depression.

The team at the University’s Neuroscience and Psychiatry Unit (NPU) and Imaging Science and Biomedical Engineering (ISBE) gave intravenous ketamine to 33 healthy male, right-handed volunteers at the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility (WTCRF). Scans showed activity in the orbitofrontal cortex stopped immediately.

In studies in the US, depressed people found that their symptoms begin to improve 24 hours after taking ketamine and continued to improve for two days after that. Professor Deakin is now funded to develop this approach to treatment in psychiatric patients in the new £30M Biomedical Research Centre awarded to Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s Hospital NHS Trust just last month. He hopes to develop a treatment within the next five years.

He said: “The study results have given us a completely novel way of treating depression and a new avenue of understanding depression.”

Professor Helen Mayberg, at Emory University in the United States, who pioneered deep brain stimulation to stop overactivity of the orbitofrontal cortex, in which electrodes are used during brain surgery, agreed: “This is a terrific finding...of extreme interest to our ongoing deep brain stimulation studies.”

Source: University of Manchester

Explore further: US scientists make embryonic stem cells from adult skin

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Monkeys can play Monday morning quarterback too

May 25, 2011

Regret has long been viewed as an exclusively human thought, one which helps prevent us from repeating bad choices but becomes debilitating when it triggers obsessive thoughts about past actions.

Losing sleep, losing brain?

Jan 27, 2010

Chronic and severely stressful situations, like those connected to depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, have been associated with smaller volumes in "stress sensitive" brain regions, such as the cingulate region ...

Brain activity levels affect self-perception

Jan 07, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The less you use your brain's frontal lobes, the more you see yourself through rose-colored glasses, a University of Texas at Austin researcher says.

Brain activity linked to the parental instinct

Feb 27, 2008

Why do we almost instinctively treat babies as special, protecting them and enabling them to survive? Darwin originally pointed out that there is something about infants which prompts adults to respond to and care for them ...

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (1) May 09, 2008
Big dumb wierdo takes ketamine and PCP.

More news stories

UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

Health authorities in the United Arab Emirates have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...