Ketamine for Unipolar and Bipolar Depression

Pharmacol. Rep 72, 543–562 (2020).

Joanna Kryst, Paweł Kawalec, Alicja Mikrut Mitoraj, Andrzej Pilc, Władysław Lasoń & Tomasz Brzostek

Polish Academy of Sciences


Due to unmet clinical needs for efficient drugs with a rapid onset of antidepressant effects, we aimed to evaluate the efficacy of single-dose ketamine in different subgroups of patients with major depression and establish whether repeated ketamine administration could be a viable strategy to maintain treatment gains.

Electronic databases (Medline via PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library, Trip Database) were systematically searched until February 22, 2019, for published peer-reviewed randomized controlled trials (RCTs) concerning a single and repeated administration of ketamine in patients with major depression. All relevant RCTs were selected and critically appraised, and a meta-analysis of eligible studies was performed.

A total of 20 studies were included in the meta-analysis. The largest effect of ketamine vs. controls in reducing depressive symptoms was observed at 24 h (SMD = − 0.89; 95% CI − 1.24; − 0.53; p < 0.00001); however, a significant difference was shown for up to 7 days after a single dose. Significant differences compared with controls were observed for up to 7 days in treatment-resistant patients and when ketamine was added to ongoing antidepressant treatment, while there were no significant differences at 7 days when ketamine was used as monotherapy. In patients with major depression, initial antidepressant effects of ketamine were maintained during repeated dosing. At 2–3 weeks of repeated ketamine treatment, significant reduction of depression severity scores was observed: SMD = − 0.70; 95% CI − 1.15; − 0.25 or SMD = − 0.81; 95% CI − 1.41; − 0.20 (depending on the dosing regimen used); p ≤ 0.009 vs placebo.

Our meta-analysis revealed rapid and robust antidepressant effects of single-dose ketamine in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD). By pooling data from RCTs, we showed for the first time that repeated ketamine administration is effective in sustaining initial antidepressant effects observed after single dosing.

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