International pooled patient-level meta-analysis of ketamine infusion for depression: In search of clinical moderators

This meta-analysis (n=809, s=17) finds robust effects of ketamine for relieving depression (at 24 hours and seven days). Moderators of this effect were the level of treatment resistance (i.e. more failed SSRIs) and studies that used a cross-over design (smaller placebo effect). Other moderators were found, but all were modest and clinically irrelevant (i.e. age or sex doesn’t moderate treatment effect).


“Depression is disabling and highly prevalent. Intravenous (IV) ketamine displays rapid-onset antidepressant properties, but little is known regarding which patients are most likely to benefit, limiting personalized prescriptions. We identified randomized controlled trials of IV ketamine that recruited individuals with a relevant psychiatric diagnosis (e.g., unipolar or bipolar depression; post-traumatic stress disorder), included one or more control arms, did not provide any other study-administered treatment in conjunction with ketamine (although clinically prescribed concurrent treatments were allowable), and assessed outcome using either the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale or the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD-17). Individual patient-level data for at least one outcome was obtained from 17 of 25 eligible trials [pooled n = 809]. Rates of participant-level data availability across 33 moderators that were solicited from these 17 studies ranged from 10.8% to 100% (median = 55.6%). After data harmonization, moderators available in at least 40% of the dataset were tested sequentially, as well as with a data-driven, combined moderator approach. Robust main effects of ketamine on acute [~24-hours; β*(95% CI) = 0.58 (0.44, 0.72); p < 0.0001] and post-acute [~7 days; β*(95% CI) = 0.38 (0.23, 0.54); p < 0.0001] depression severity were observed. Two study-level moderators emerged as significant: ketamine effects (relative to placebo) were larger in studies that required a higher degree of previous treatment resistance to federal regulatory agency-approved antidepressant medications (≥2 failed trials) for study entry; and in studies that used a crossover design. A comprehensive data-driven search for combined moderators identified statistically significant, but modest and clinically uninformative, effects (effect size r ≤ 0.29, a small-medium effect). Ketamine robustly reduces depressive symptoms in a heterogeneous range of patients, with benefit relative to placebo even greater in patients more resistant to prior medications. In this largest effort to date to apply precision medicine approaches to ketamine treatment, no clinical or demographic patient-level features were detected that could be used to guide ketamine treatment decisions.”

Authors: Rebecca B. Price, Nicholas Kissel, Andrew Baumeister, Rebecca Rohac, Mary L. Woody, Elizabeth D. Ballard, Carlos A. Zarate Jr, William Deakin, Chadi G. Abdallah, Adriana Feder, Dennis S. Charney, Michael F. Grunebaum, J. John Mann, Sanjay J. Mathew, Bronagh Gallagher, Declan M. McLoughlin, James W. Murrough, Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, Rebecca McMillan, Rachael Sumner, George Papakostas, Maurizio Fava, Rebecca Hock, Jennifer L. Phillips, Pierre Blier, Paulo Shiroma, Peter Šóš, Tung-Ping Su, Mu-Hong Chen, Mikael Tiger, Johan Lundberg, Samuel T. Wilkinson & Meredith L. Wallace

Study details

Compounds studied

Topics studied

Study characteristics

809 Humans


Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Johan Lundberg
Johan Lundberg currently works at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet where he is a group leader and associate professor in psychiatry.

Suresh Muthukumaraswamy
Suresh Muthukumaraswamy (Ph.D.) is a Principal Investigator in the Centre for Brain Research and the Auckland Neuropsychopharmacology Research Group. His main research interests are in understanding how therapies alter brain activity and in developing methodologies to measure these changes in both healthy individuals and patient groups. His previous studies investigated a range of compounds including hallucinogens (ketamine, LSD, psilocybin), anesthetics, anti-epileptics, and GABA-enhancers using a wide range of neuroimaging techniques. His current work investigates ketamine and midazolam using simultaneous EEG/fMRI recordings, and the effects of ketamine, scopolamine, and rTMS in depression.

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