Background: Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a noncompetitive inhibitor of NMDA receptors that appears to have ketamine-like rapid antidepressant effects in patients with treatment-resistant major depression. In preclinical studies, ketamine enhances glutamate-mediated synaptic transmission in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. In this study, we examined the effects of N2O on glutamate transmission in the hippocampus and compared its effects to those of ketamine. Methods: Glutamate-mediated synaptic transmission was studied in the CA1 region of hippocampal slices from adult albino rats using standard extracellular recording methods. Effects of N2O and ketamine at subanesthetic concentrations were evaluated by acute administration. Results: Akin to 1 μM ketamine, 30% N2O administered for 15–20 minutes resulted in persistent enhancement of synaptic responses mediated by both AMPA receptors and NMDA receptors. Synaptic enhancement by both N2O and ketamine was blocked by co-administration of a competitive NMDA receptor antagonist at saturating concentration, but only ketamine was blocked by an AMPA receptor antagonist. Synaptic enhancement by both agents involved TrkB (tropomyosin receptor kinase B), mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin), and NOS (nitric oxide synthase) with some differences between N2O and ketamine. N2O potentiation occluded enhancement by ketamine, and in vivo N2O exposure occluded further potentiation by both N2O and ketamine. Conclusions: These results indicate that N2O has ketamine-like effects on hippocampal synaptic function at a subanesthetic, but therapeutically relevant concentration. These 2 rapid antidepressants have similar, but not identical mechanisms that result in persisting synaptic enhancement, possibly contributing to psychotropic actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)964-972
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2022


  • Laughing gas
  • NMDA receptors
  • Nitric oxide synthase
  • TrkB receptors
  • mTOR


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