Neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins University may have discovered a faster solution for treating depression, The Johns Hopkins Health Review reports in its Fall/Winter 2016 issue.
Most prescription antidepressants take a month or longer to become effective. But a chemical compound known as CPG3466B appears to mimic the effects of ketamine, a tranquilizer that can serve as an antidepressant in small doses. The treatment boosts the moods of mice in just a few hours, according to a study co-authored by Solomon Snyder, a neuroscientist in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for whom the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience is named.
Used to treat pain in emergency rooms and intensive care units, ketamine works on a different chemical pathway than most antidepressants, making it an effective alternative for patients who don't see results from traditional antidepressants. It is capable of elevating a patient's mood in a matter of minutes, but physicians and psychiatrists are wary of the risks associated with the drug. Side effects can produce symptoms similar to schizophrenia, and when abused, ketamine produces a dreamlike high and dissociative state.
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The Johns Hopkins team studied the effects of ketamine on the brain, isolating the chemical pathway that it alters. They found that CPG3466B acts on a different spot within the same pathway. But unlike ketamine, the compound is safe and nonaddictive. CPG3466B was synthesized by a drug company years ago and tested in clinical trials for Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's. It didn't help these conditions, but it also did not harm subjects or appear to be addictive.
When School of Medicine researchers gave the compound to mice, they found that it improved their performance in two tasks commonly used to measure depression. Compared to a control group, mice that took the compound swam longer after being plopped into a vat of cold water—showing that they were persistent. The compound also appeared to embolden mice to run into an unfamiliar, bright space to snatch a morsel of food. Treated mice hesitated less before running into the space than those in the control group.