Neurocognitive impact of ketamine treatment in major depressive disorder: A review on human and animal studies

Camilla Crisanti, Paolo Enrico, Alessio Fiorentini, Giuseppe Delvecchio, Paolo Brambilla

Published 29 July 2020 |



Most recent evidence support a rapid and sustained antidepressant effect of subanesthetic dose of intravenous ketamine in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). However, clinical and animal studies investigating the effects of intravenous ketamine on specific functional domains disrupted by depression reported conflicting results. Therefore, the aim of this review is to provide an overview of the recent findings exploring the cognitive effects of ketamine in depression.


After a bibliographic search on PubMed, Medline and PsycInfo, we retrieved 11 original studies meeting our research criteria, 7 in humans with MDD or Treatment Resistant Disorder and 4 using rats models for depression.


Overall the results showed that a) ketamine reduced activation and normalized connectivity measures of several brain regions related to depressive behaviors and reversed deficits in cognitive flexibility and coping response strategy in rats with depressive features, and b) ketamine leads to a no significant impairment on neurocognitive functions in most of the studies, with only three studies observing improvements in speed of processing, verbal learning, sustained attention and response control, verbal and working memory.


The methodological heterogeneity, in terms of neuropsychological tests used and cognitive domain explored, of the studies included.


Most of the studies included showed no significant cognitive impairments in MDD patients after ketamine treatment. Furthermore, the results of the fMRI studies considered suggest that ketamine may have a normalizing effect on brain functions during attentional and emotional processing in MDD patients. However, further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary evidences

Keywords: ketamine, depression, cognitive functions, Crisanti


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