Ketamine and its metabolite (2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine induce lasting alterations in glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in the mesolimbic circuit

Mol Psychiatry. 2018 Oct;23(10):2066-2077. doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.239. Epub 2017 Nov 21.


Low doses of ketamine trigger rapid and lasting antidepressant effects after one injection in treatment-resistant patients with major depressive disorder. Modulation of AMPA receptors (AMPARs) in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex is suggested to mediate the antidepressant action of ketamine and of one of its metabolites (2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine ((2R,6R)-HNK). We have examined whether ketamine and (2R,6R)-HNK affect glutamatergic transmission and plasticity in the mesolimbic system, brain regions known to have key roles in reward-motivated behaviors, mood and hedonic drive. We found that one day after the injection of a low dose of ketamine, long-term potentiation (LTP) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) was impaired. Loss of LTP was maintained for 7 days and was not associated with an altered basal synaptic transmission mediated by AMPARs and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs). Inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin signaling with rapamycin did not prevent the ketamine-induced loss of LTP but inhibited LTP in saline-treated mice. However, ketamine blunted the increase in the phosphorylation of the GluA1 subunit of AMPARs at a calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II/protein kinase C site induced by an LTP induction protocol. Moreover, ketamine caused a persistent increased phosphorylation of GluA1 at a protein kinase A site. (2R,6R)-HNK also impaired LTP in the NAc. In dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area from ketamine- or (2R,6R)-HNK-treated mice, AMPAR-mediated responses were depressed, while those mediated by NMDARs were unaltered, which resulted in a reduced AMPA/NMDA ratio, a measure of long-term synaptic depression. These results demonstrate that a single injection of ketamine or (2R,6R)-HNK induces enduring alterations in the function of AMPARs and synaptic plasticity in brain regions involved in reward-related behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agents / pharmacology
  • Ketamine / pharmacology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Receptors, AMPA / drug effects
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agents
  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Ketamine