Background: At ketamine and esketamine doses at which antidepressant doses are achieved, these agents are relatively selective, noncompetitive, N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists. However, at substantially higher doses, ketamine has shown mu-opioid receptor (MOR-gene symbol: OPRM1) agonist effects. Preliminary clinical studies showed conflicting results on whether naltrexone, a MOR antagonist, blocks the antidepressant action of ketamine. We examined drug-induced or endogenous MOR involvement in the antidepressant and dissociative responses to esketamine by assessing the effects of a functional single nucleotide polymorphism rs1799971 (A118G) of OPRM1, which is known to alter MOR agonist-mediated responses.
Methods: Participants with treatment-resistant depression from 2 phase III, double-blind, controlled trials of esketamine (or placebo) nasal spray plus an oral antidepressant were genotyped for rs1799971. Participants received the experimental agents twice weekly for 4 weeks. Antidepressant responses were rated using the change in Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) score on days 2 and 28 post-dose initiation, and dissociative side effects were assessed using the Clinician-Administered Dissociative-States Scale at 40 minutes post-dose on days 1 and 25.
Results: In the esketamine + antidepressant arm, no significant genotype effect of single nucleotide polymorphism rs1799971 (A118G) on MADRS score reductions was detected on either day 2 or 28. By contrast, in the antidepressant + placebo arm, there was a significant genotype effect on MADRS score reductions on day 2 and a nonsignificant trend on day 28 towards an improvement in depression symptoms in G-allele carriers. No significant genotype effects on dissociative responses were detected.
Conclusions: Variation in rs1799971 (A118G) did not affect the antidepressant response to esketamine + antidepressant. Antidepressant response to antidepressant + placebo was increased in G-allele carriers, compatible with previous reports that release of endorphins/enkephalins may play a role in mediating placebo effect.
Keywords: depression; esketamine; ketamine; mu-opioid receptor; polymorphism.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of CINP.