Numerous placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated the ability of ketamine, an NMDA receptor antagonist, to induce rapid (within hours), transient antidepressant effects when administered intravenously (IV) at subanesthetic doses (0.5 mg/kg over 40 min). However, the optimal antidepressant dose remains unknown. We aimed to compare to active placebo the rapid acting antidepressant properties of a broad range of subanesthetic doses of IV ketamine among outpatients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD). A range of IV ketamine doses were compared to active placebo in the treatment of adult TRD over a 3-day period following a single infusion over 40 min. This was an outpatient study conducted across six US academic sites. Outpatients were 18–70 years old with TRD, defined as failure to achieve a satisfactory response (e.g., less than 50% improvement of depression symptoms) to at least two adequate treatment courses during the current depressive episode. Following a washout period, 99 eligible subjects were randomly assigned to one of the five arms in a 1:1:1:1:1 fashion: a single intravenous dose of ketamine 0.1 mg/kg (n = 18), a single dose of ketamine 0.2 mg/kg (n = 20), a single dose of ketamine 0.5 mg/kg (n = 22), a single dose of ketamine 1.0 mg/kg (n = 20), and a single dose of midazolam 0.045 mg/kg (active placebo) (n = 19). The study assessments (HAM-D-6, MADRS, SDQ, PAS, CGI-S, and CGI-I) were performed at days 0, 1, 3 (endpoint), 5, 7, 14, and 30 to assess the safety and efficacy. The overall group × time interaction effect was significant for the primary outcome measure, the HAM-D-6. In post hoc pairwise comparisons controlling for multiple comparisons, standard dose (0.5 mg/kg) and high dose (1 mg/kg) of intravenous ketamine were superior to active placebo; a low dose (0.1 mg/kg) was significant only prior to adjustment (p = 0.02, p-adj = 0.14, d = −0.82 at day 1). Most of the interaction effect was due to differences at day 1, with no significant adjusted pairwise differences at day 3. This pattern generally held for secondary outcomes. The infusions of ketamine were relatively well tolerated compared to active placebo, except for greater dissociative symptoms and transient blood pressure elevations with the higher doses. Our results suggest that there is evidence for the efficacy of the 0.5 mg/kg and 1.0 mg/kg subanesthetic doses of IV ketamine and no clear or consistent evidence for clinically meaningful efficacy of lower doses of IV ketamine. Trial Registration: NCT01920555.
Question: What is the optimal, rapid antidepressant dose of intravenous (IV) ketamine, an NMDA receptor antagonist?
Findings: Our results suggest that there is evidence for the efficacy of the 0.5 mg/kg and 1.0 mg/kg subanesthetic doses of IV ketamine and no clear or consistent evidence for clinically meaningful efficacy of lower doses of IV ketamine. Most of the effect was due to differences at day 1.
Meaning: Our results suggest that there is a range of effective, subanesthetic doses of IV ketamine in TRD.
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This project was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) under Contract Rapidly-Acting Treatments for Treatment-Resistant Depression (RAPID) Number: HHSN271201100006I, to the Massachusetts General Hospital (Maurizio Fava and George Papakostas, co-principal investigators). The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the US Government. We would like to thank Dr. Matthias Eikermann from MGH who served as a collaborator, and Drs. Mi Hillefors, Steven Zalcman, Adam Haim, and Galia Siegel from NIMH for their support which was absolutely critical to both the planning and the implementation of the study.