Ketamine and Attentional Bias Toward Emotional Faces: Dynamic Causal Modeling of Magnetoencephalographic Connectivity in Treatment-Resistant Depression

This double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects study (n=34) used magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recordings to find a correlation between anti-depression effects (for those suffering from depression; TRD & BD) and neurological changes (e.g. faster GABA, AMPA, and NMDA transmission in specific brain areas).


The glutamatergic modulator ketamine rapidly reduces depressive symptoms in individuals with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (TRD) and bipolar disorder. While its underlying mechanism of antidepressant action is not fully understood, modulating glutamatergically-mediated connectivity appears to be a critical component moderating antidepressant response. This double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study analyzed data from 19 drug-free individuals with TRD and 15 healthy volunteers who received a single intravenous infusion of ketamine hydrochloride (0.5 mg/kg) as well as an intravenous infusion of saline placebo. Magnetoencephalographic recordings were collected prior to the first infusion and 6–9 h after both drug and placebo infusions. During scanning, participants completed an attentional dot probe task that included emotional faces. Antidepressant response was measured across time points using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS). Dynamic causal modeling (DCM) was used to measure changes in parameter estimates of connectivity via a biophysical model that included realistic local neuronal architecture and receptor channel signaling, modeling connectivity between the early visual cortex, fusiform cortex, amygdala, and inferior frontal gyrus. Clinically, ketamine administration significantly reduced depressive symptoms in TRD participants. Within the model, ketamine administration led to faster gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) transmission in the early visual cortex, faster NMDA transmission in the fusiform cortex, and slower NMDA transmission in the amygdala. Ketamine administration also led to direct and indirect changes in local inhibition in the early visual cortex and inferior frontal gyrus and to indirect increases in cortical excitability within the amygdala. Finally, reductions in depressive symptoms in TRD participants post-ketamine were associated with faster α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) transmission and increases in gain control of spiny stellate cells in the early visual cortex. These findings provide additional support for the GABA and NMDA inhibition and disinhibition hypotheses of depression and support the role of AMPA throughput in ketamine’s antidepressant effects.

Authors: Jessica R. Gilbert, Christina S. Galiano, Allison C. Nugent & Carlos A. Zarate

Study details

Compounds studied

Topics studied
Depression Treatment-Resistant Depression

Study characteristics
Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Within-Subject Randomized


PDF of Ketamine and Attentional Bias Toward Emotional Faces: Dynamic Causal Modeling of Magnetoencephalographic Connectivity in Treatment-Resistant Depression