The Future for Anti-Depressants

In the United States alone, nearly 15 million adults suffer from a major depressive disorder. Though there are several treatment options, many of the medications that are prescribed to patients with depression have a delay in their onset of action. During this time, the patients’ condition may even deteriorate to dangerous levels.  Despite this, there are signs that research by pharmaceutical companies on depression medications has slowed.

This creates a strong need to find a drug that will begin to work soon after beginning therapy.  One possibility has come through drug studies on Ketamine by the National Institute of Mental Health.  This research has shown a possible route to more quickly treat patients who suffer from depression and bipolar disorder.  Previous NIMH studies have learned more about the receptors that are acted on by this drug.  Now, they have focused on predicting which patients will see the benefit of this kind of treatment.

In this recent study, researchers found that activity in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC), the area of the brain that has connections to both emotional and cognitive brain centers, provided indicators that patients would respond to therapy using Ketamine.  For patients with certain activity patterns, the drug worked quickly and effectively to relieve symptoms of depression.  The authors noted that areas of the brain normally associated with emotional control were at work for these patients, even when given a task with no emotional content.

Unfortunately, Ketamine has far too many side effects to be used widely.  In fact, it can be abused as a recreational drug.   Side effects can include hallucinations and euphoria when the drug is given in high doses.  Ketamine is a most often used as an anesthetic during minor surgery and is approved by the Food and Drug Administration at much higher doses. Nonetheless, its use is limited because there have been cases where patients have hallucinated while recovering from anesthesia.

While this particular drug may never be used to specifically treat depression, this research has revealed a great deal about how this drug works, and the function of brain receptors in the treatment of depression.  Hopefully, this will lead the way to developing a new generation of faster-acting medications. However, until more research has been done, it is important to be patient with trying new medications.  Working with your doctor by discussing improvements or side effects of certain medications is a good start to creating a treatment plan that works for you.

This post comes from our guest blogger, Margo Tell.