Texas researchers identify what's special about 'Special K' for depression

UT's Flavia Carreno

For years now ketamine has fascinated academic and industry researchers alike. The anesthetic has proven time and again that it can quickly lift patients out of the most severe depression, then quickly flames out. But the hallucinogenic side effects that made it better known as the party drug Special K prevent its regular use.

Now investigators at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio say they have ID'd the particular brain pathway that delivers the benefits of the drug, offering a target for drug developers looking to come up with a new drug that can avoid all the other receptors lit up by ketamine.

Working with rats, the investigators say that they ID's a brain circuit that sends signals between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. Activating the circuit brings the antidepressant effect of ketamine, while shutting it down triggered depression.

"The idea is, if one part of the brain contributes to the beneficial effects of ketamine, and another part contributes to its abuse and effects such as hallucinations, now we can come up with medications to target the good part and not the bad," said Flavia Carreno, lead author of the study, in a release.

The study was published December 1 in Molecular Psychiatry.

J&J ($JNJ), AstraZeneca ($AZN) and others have pursued clinical studies of new versions of ketamine, looking for a drug that can work safely. So far, though, no clinical success has been reported in the field. But the researchers in Texas say they want to see if they're on the right track.

"The next step is finding a drug that interacts selectively with it," said researcher Daniel Lodge in the release. "And we have some ideas how to do that."

- here's the release
- read the journal abstract

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