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Exploring New Therapeutic Areas in the Treatment of Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Exploring New Therapeutic Areas in the Treatment of Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Dr Gerard Sanacora discusses novel antidepressant agents with potential clinical relevance for the treatment of major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. Dr Sanacora is Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Yale Depression Research Program at Yale School of Medicine. He is a scheduled speaker at this year's US Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress in Las Vegas in a presentation titled "New Developments in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder."

We have recently become aware of the limitations of existing antidepressant medication. Studies such as the Star*D and the StepBD have hightlighted [this fact], first in the onset of action requiring a lag time of several weeks.1,2 There is a limited efficacy, and although large percentage of treated patients feel better, about one third of patients that achieve little benefit from current medications. Lastly, we realize that there are limitations in complete remission and of those that do achieve remission, a large percentage will have a relapse in following years.

Based on the acknowledgement of some of these limitations, there has been a large push to develop novel antidepressant treatments. The hope is that the next generation of antidepressant medications will come from a greater understanding of the pathophysiology of these disorders.

One of the things my laboratory has been has been interested in looking at is the effect of chronic stress on the brain and how that could generate pathophysiologic changes similar to what is seen in the brains of depressed patients. Evidence has been accumulating over the years that chronic, unpredictable stress has an impact on several aspects of the glutamatergic neurotransmitter system. Identifying these changes induced by stress now allows us to identify targets that can be used to develop novel antidepressant treatment strategies.

Based on these models, we have identified several sites that are potential targets for pharmaceutical development. The one that has probably gained the greatest amount of attention at this point is targeting the NMDA receptor, specifically using NMDA receptor antagonist drugs to induce antidepressant effects.

Ketamine is the model that has been used most frequently. The original studies with ketamine were published in 2000. Studies by Berman et al3 at Yale showed that ketamine had a very rapid antidepressant effect, having effects within hours but lasting for days if not weeks in some patients. These findings were replicated later by the NIMH group by Dr Zarate4 and others were able to show that these effects were in fact replicable with over 70% of the patients having a response within one day and further went on to show that the same magnitude of effect could be seen in patients with bipolar disorder.

Since then, there have been several studies replicating these findings of a rapid robust antidepressant effect of ketamine that lasts for several days with some evidence lasting for in some individual patients.

There are also some studies coming out suggesting that ketamine may be beneficial in specific cases, such as acute suicidal ideation, having a rapid effect on these symptoms. This might have potential clinical relevance or clinical usefulness.


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