A Dendrite-Focused Framework for Understanding the Actions of Ketamine and Psychedelics

Trends Neurosci. 2021 Apr;44(4):260-275. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2020.11.008. Epub 2020 Dec 21.


Pilot studies have hinted that serotonergic psychedelics such as psilocybin may relieve depression, and could possibly do so by promoting neural plasticity. Intriguingly, another psychotomimetic compound, ketamine, is a fast-acting antidepressant and induces synapse formation. The similarities in behavioral and neural effects have been puzzling because the compounds target distinct molecular receptors in the brain. In this opinion article, we develop a conceptual framework that suggests the actions of ketamine and serotonergic psychedelics may converge at the dendrites, to both enhance and suppress membrane excitability. We speculate that mismatches in the opposing actions on dendritic excitability may relate to these compounds' cell-type and region selectivity, their moderate range of effects and toxicity, and their plasticity-promoting capacities.

Keywords: antidepressant; calcium signaling; depression; neural plasticity; psilocybin; serotonin receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Dendrites
  • Depression
  • Hallucinogens* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Ketamine* / pharmacology
  • Neuronal Plasticity


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Hallucinogens
  • Ketamine