Behavioral and biochemical effects of ketamine and dextromethorphan relative to its antidepressant-like effects in Swiss Webster mice

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Ketamine has been shown to produce rapid and robust antidepressant effects in depressed individuals, however its abuse potential and adverse psychotomimetic effects limit its widespread use. Dextromethorphan may serve as a safer alternative based on pharmacodynamic similarities to ketamine. In this proof of concept study, behavioral and biochemical analyses were undertaken to evaluate the potential involvement of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the antidepressant-like effects of dextromethorphan in mice, with comparisons to ketamine and imipramine. Male Swiss, Webster mice were injected with dextromethorphan, ketamine or imipramine and their behaviors evaluated in the forced swim test (FST) and open field test. Western blots were used to measure brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its precursor, pro-BDNF, protein expression in the hippocampus and frontal cortex of these mice. Our results show dextromethorphan and imipramine each reduced immobility time in the FST without affecting locomotor activity, whereas ketamine reduced immobility time and increased locomotor activity. Ketamine also rapidly (within 40 min) increased pro-BDNF expression in an AMPA receptor-dependent manner in the hippocampus, while DM and imipramine did not alter pro-BDNF or BDNF levels in either the hippocampus or frontal cortex within this timeframe. These data demonstrate that dextromethorphan shares some features with both ketamine and imipramine. Additional studies looking at dextromethorphan may aid in the development of more rapid, safe, and efficacious antidepressant treatment.