Prefrontal Connectivity and Glutamate Transmission: Relevance to Depression Pathophysiology and Ketamine Treatment

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2017 Oct;2(7):566-574. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2017.04.006.


Background: Prefrontal global brain connectivity with global signal regression (GBCr) was proposed as a robust biomarker of depression, and was associated with ketamine's mechanism of action. Here, we investigated prefrontal GBCr in treatment-resistant depression (TRD) at baseline and following treatment. Then, we conducted a set of pharmacological challenges in healthy subjects to investigate the glutamate neurotransmission correlates of GBCr.

Methods: In study A, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare GBCr between 22 TRD and 29 healthy control. Then, we examined the effects of ketamine and midazolam on GBCr in TRD patients 24h post-treatment. In study B, we acquired repeated fMRI in 18 healthy subjects to determine the effects of lamotrigine (a glutamate release inhibitor), ketamine, and lamotrigine-by-ketamine interaction.

Results: In study A, TRD patients showed significant reduction in dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal GBCr compared to healthy control. In TRD patients, GBCr in the altered clusters significantly increased 24h following ketamine (effect size = 1.0 [0.3 1.8]), but not midazolam (effect size = 0.5 [-0.6 1.3]). In study B, oral lamotrigine reduced GBCr 2h post-administration, while ketamine increased medial prefrontal GBCr during infusion. Lamotrigine significantly reduced the ketamine-induced GBCr surge. Exploratory analyses showed elevated ventral prefrontal GBCr in TRD and significant reduction of ventral prefrontal GBCr during ketamine infusion in healthy subjects.

Conclusions: This study provides first replication of the ability of ketamine to normalize depression-related prefrontal dysconnectivity. It also provides indirect evidence that these effects may be triggered by the capacity of ketamine to enhance glutamate neurotransmission.

Keywords: Treatment resistant depression; functional MRI; global brain connectivity; glutamate; ketamine; rapid acting antidepressants.