NMDA Antagonists for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Fifteen to thirty percent of patients with major depressive disorder do not respond to antidepressants that target the monoaminergic systems. NMDA antagonists are currently being actively investigated as a treatment for these patients. Ketamine is the most widely studied of the compounds. A brief infusion of a low dose of this agent produces rapid improvement in depressive symptoms that lasts for several days. The improvement occurs after the agent has produced its well characterized psychotomimetic and cognitive side effects. Multiple infusions of the agent (e.g., 2–3× per week for several weeks) provide relief from depressive symptoms, but the symptoms reoccur once the treatment has been stopped. A 96-h infusion of a higher dose using add-on clonidine to mitigate the psychotomimetic effects appears to also provide relief and resulted in about 40% of the subjects still having a good response 8Â weeks after the infusion. As this was a pilot study, additional work is needed to confirm and extend this finding. Nitrous oxide also has had positive results. Of the other investigational agents, CERC-301 and rapastinel remain in clinical development. When careful monitoring of neuropsychiatric symptoms has been conducted, these agents all produce similar side effects in the same dose range, indicating that NMDA receptor blockade produces both the wanted and unwanted effects. Research is still needed to determine the appropriate dose, schedule, and ways to mitigate against unwanted side effects of NMDA receptor blockade. These hurdles need to be overcome before ketamine and similar agents can be prescribed routinely to patients.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Experimental Pharmacology
PublisherSpringer New York LLC
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

NameHandbook of Experimental Pharmacology
ISSN (Print)0171-2004
ISSN (Electronic)1865-0325


  • CERC-301
  • Ketamine
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Memantine
  • NMDA antagonists
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Rapastinel
  • Treatment-resistant depression


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