Pharmacodynamic profiles of ketamine (R)- and (S)- with 5-day inpatient infusion for the treatment of complex regional pain syndrome

Pain Physician. 2010 Jul-Aug;13(4):379-87.


Background: Ketamine might be effective in blocking central sensitization of pain transmission neurons through its effect on NMDA receptors in refractory Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) patients. At higher doses, ketamine infusions can be associated with significant risks; outpatient therapy requires return visits for a 10-day period with variable efficacy and duration.

Objective: This study determined the efficacy of a 5-day moderate dose, continuous racemic ketamine infusion. The pharmacodynamic responses to racemic ketamine and norketamine were examined.

Design: Observational study

Methods: In this study, ketamine was titrated from 10-40 mg/hour in 16 CRPS patients, and maintained for 5 days. Pain was assessed daily. Ketamine and norketamine concentrations were obtained on Day 1 before starting the infusion; at 60 to 90 minutes, 120 to 150 minutes, 180 to 210 minutes, and 240 to 300 minutes after the initiation of the infusion on Days 2, 3, 4, and 5; and on Day 5 at 60 minutes after the conclusion of the infusion. The plasma concentrations of (R)-ketamine, (S)-ketamine, (R)-norketamine and (S)-norketamine were determined using an enantioselective liquid chromatography - mass spectrometry method.

Results: Ketamine and norketamine infusion rates stabilized 5 hours after the start of the infusion. The subjects showed no evidence of significant tachycardia, arterial oxygen desaturation, or hallucinatory responses. Subjects generally experienced minimal pain relief on day one followed by significant relief by day 3. Mean pain scores decreased from the 8-9 to 3-5 ranges; however, the analgesic response to ketamine infusion was not uniform. On Day 5, there was little or no change in the pain measure assessed as the worst pain experienced over the last 24 hours in 37% of the subjects. (R)- and (S)-ketamine concentrations peaked at 240-300 min. (R)- and (S)-norketamine concentrations were lower and peaked on Day 2 of the infusion, as opposed to Day 1 for (R)- and (S)-ketamine. Significant pain relief was achieved by the second day of infusion and correlated with the maximum plasma levels of ketamine and norketamine. Pain relief continued to significantly improve over the 5-day infusion at concentrations of 200-225 ng/mL for (R)- and (S)-ketamine, and 90-120 ng/mL for (R)- and (S)-norketamine.

Conclusions: A 5-day ketamine infusion for the treatment of severe CRPS provided significant (p <0.05) pain relief by Day 3 compared to baseline. The pain relief experienced on Day 2 of the infusion continued to improve over the 5-day infusion period and correlated with the maximum plasma levels of ketamine and norketamine. We speculate that downstream metabolites of ketamine and norketamine might be playing a role in its therapeutic efficacy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics / blood
  • Analgesics / pharmacokinetics
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndromes / drug therapy*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / blood
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous / adverse effects
  • Infusions, Intravenous / methods
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage*
  • Ketamine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Ketamine / blood
  • Ketamine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Ketamine
  • norketamine