The glutamatergic modulator ketamine has created a blueprint for studying novel pharmaceuticals in the field. Recent studies suggest that “classic” serotonergic psychedelics (SPs) may also have antidepressant efficacy. Both ketamine and SPs appear to produce rapid, sustained antidepressant effects after a transient psychoactive period.
This review summarizes areas of overlap between SP and ketamine research and considers the possibility of a common, downstream mechanism of action. The therapeutic relevance of the psychoactive state, overlapping cellular and molecular effects, and overlapping electrophysiological and neuroimaging observations are all reviewed.
Taken together, the evidence suggests a potentially shared mechanism wherein both ketamine and SPs may engender rapid neuroplastic effects in a glutamatergic activity-dependent manner. It is postulated that, though distinct, both ketamine and SPs appear to produce acute alterations in cortical network activity that may initially produce psychoactive effects and later produce milder, sustained changes in network efficiency associated with therapeutic response. However, despite some commonalities between the psychoactive component of these pharmacologically distinct therapies—such as engagement of the downstream glutamatergic pathway—the connection between psychoactive impact and antidepressant efficacy remains unclear and requires more rigorous research.
Rapid-acting antidepressants currently under investigation may share some downstream pharmacological effects, suggesting that their antidepressant effects may come about via related mechanisms. Given the prototypic nature of ketamine research and recent progress in this area, this platform could be used to investigate entirely new classes of antidepressants with rapid and robust actions.