Ketamine, a common anesthetic, given in low doses, could help improve the social symptoms of depression. To explain the mechanism behind this encouraging prospect a studypublished in the magazine Molecular Psychiatryconducted by scientists at Osaka University.

The mouse study

The team, led by Rei Yokoyama, used a mouse model to evaluate the use of this drug in cases of depression. This condition, experts explain, represents a serious challenge for many people globally, and it is therefore essential to identify safe and effective treatments to address it.

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Ketamine, the researchers note, can restore functioning in a specific region of the brain called the anterior insular cortex.

The effects on the symptoms of social isolation

Composed of two molecules, (S)-ketamine, (R)-ketamine, the active ingredient of ketamine was already known for its potential use in patients with depression, but the mechanisms linked to its functioning were not clear. The research team evaluated the distinct effect of the two substances on animals with symptoms of chronic social isolation.

“Thanks to our approach – reports Yokoyama – we were able to observe the differences between treatments with (S)-ketamine and (R)-ketamine in terms of neuronal activation throughout the brain. In particular, we found that the “Chronic social isolation leads to decreased neuronal activation in the anterior insular cortex, a brain region important for emotional regulation. (R)-ketamine, but not its counterpart, appeared able to reverse this effect.” The researchers noted that mice treated with (R)-ketamine were able to recognize familiar specimens more easily, indicating improved social cognition.

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“Our results – he comments Hitoshi Hashimotosenior author of the study – highlight the importance of the anterior insular cortex for the positive effects of (R)-ketamine for the treatment of social disorders, at least among animal patients.

As rates of social isolation and depression are increasing around the world, our work has important implications. Further validation will obviously be needed, but this common anesthetic could be used to improve the quality of life in people with associated disorders.”

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