Repairing Damaged Brain Circuits: A Theory on How Ketamine Works for Depression – Although it is now well documented that ketamine has the ability to rapidly and effectively relieve the symptoms of depression that has failed to respond to traditional antidepressants, no one is sure exactly how it does so. There has been research done to suggest that ketamine has the ability to create new pathways between neurons (brain cells), thereby “rebooting” the brain. But a newer study published this month in Science is suggesting something even more remarkable is happening – that ketamine can actually “heal” broken neural pathways caused by stress and depression.
When a brain experiences the symptoms of stress and depression, synapses (or connections) between neurons essentially die, causing the constellation of symptoms we associate with depression – loss of enjoyment in usual activities, fatigue, blunting of emotions, hopelessness, loss of interest, etc. When visualizing the brain cells in stressed mice after they receive a dose of ketamine, the researchers saw something surprising – it seems as though ketamine works to relieve depression in a 2-step process.
Repairing Damaged Brain Circuits: A Theory on How Ketamine Works for Depression Continued…
The first happens almost immediately after ketamine enters the body, and works to improve the function of faulty brain cells. This corresponded to the relief of symptoms behaviorally evident in the test subjects (eating more food, running in their maze, etc.). The second phase was not apparent until over 12 hours after the ketamine infusion – microscopic analysis showed that the ketamine kick-started the brain into restoring these broken circuits for a longer-term solution. This seems to demonstrate how ketamine works to relieve depression symptoms so quickly, and how it continues to work long after it has metabolized out of the body.
An important factor to note in this study is that the researchers used mice, not humans as their models; therefore further research needs to be performed to ensure that this theory can also apply to the human brain, however, this preliminary research is promising. Furthermore, although the restoration of these broken circuits lasts longer than the time ketamine is present in the bloodstream, its effects do tend to wear off within several weeks: therefore more research needs to be conducted in order to find a way to maintain these brain circuit repairs. While we may not yet know exactly how ketamine works to successfully treat depression, new studies are constantly being conducted and our knowledge on how best to use this medication to help those who need it most will only increase in the coming years.
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