FLICKR, STEVEN DEPOLOKetamine can reduce depressive symptoms, but it induces side effects that make its street drug counterpart, “Special K,” popular at parties: hallucinations, altered perception, and dissociative behavior. But now researchers have shown that a ketamine alternative, lanicemine, can reduce depression without the adverse effects, according to a study published in Molecular Psychiatry this week (October 15).
Researchers from Yale University, the French pharmaceutical company Forenap, and AstraZeneca conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to test the effectiveness of lanicemine in 152 people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD). They found that study participants who received lanicemine injections three times a week for three weeks had a greater decrease in depressive symptoms than patients who received the placebo. The patients who received lanicemine also reported no serious adverse effects.
“This is the largest study to date evaluating the antidepressant effects of an NMDA receptor antagonist,” first author Gerard Sanacora, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, told Everyday Health. Lanicemine and ketamine block NMDA receptors, but it is still not well understood why this seems to reduce depression.
Ketamine has been shown to relieve depressive symptoms within 24 hours, and while lanicemine did not work as quickly in this study—it took up to three weeks to see symptom improvement—the delayed effects could have been due to the study design, in which patients continued to take other medications while participating in the trial. “This could be revolutionary—the first new drug treatment for depression in 50 years,” David Nutt of Imperial College London, who was not involved in the work, told New Scientist.
“What this tells us is some of the concerns around ketamine might not be such big problems as originally thought,” senior author Mike Quirk of AstraZeneca told New Scientist. “There are ways around them with the right molecule,” he added.