Neuroplasticity as a convergent mechanism of ketamine and classical psychedelics

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2021 Nov;42(11):929-942. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2021 Sep 24.


The emerging therapeutic efficacy of ketamine and classical psychedelics for depression has inspired tremendous interest in the underlying neurobiological mechanisms. We review preclinical and clinical evidence supporting neuroplasticity as a convergent downstream mechanism of action for these novel fast-acting antidepressants. Through their primary glutamate or serotonin receptor targets, ketamine and psychedelics [psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)] induce synaptic, structural, and functional changes, particularly in pyramidal neurons in the prefrontal cortex. These include increased glutamate release, α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptor (AMPAR) activation, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)-mediated signaling, expression of synaptic proteins, and synaptogenesis. Such influences may facilitate adaptive rewiring of pathological neurocircuitry, thus providing a neuroplasticity-focused framework to explain the robust and sustained therapeutic effects of these compounds.

Keywords: LTP; glutamate; rapid-acting antidepressants; serotonin; synaptic plasticity; synaptogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Hallucinogens* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Ketamine* / pharmacology
  • Neuronal Plasticity


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Hallucinogens
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Ketamine