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Potentiation of low dose ketamine effects by naltrexone: potential implications for the pharmacotherapy of alcoholism.

  • Krystal, John H
  • Madonick, Steven
  • Perry, Edward
  • Gueorguieva, Ralitza
  • Brush, Laura
  • Wray, Yola
  • Belger, Aysenil
  • D'Souza, Deepak Cyril
Published Article
Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology
Publication Date
Aug 01, 2006
PMID: 16395307


The interplay of opiate and NMDA glutamate receptors may contribute to psychosis, cognitive function, alcoholism, and substance dependence. Ketamine and ethanol block the NMDA glutamate receptor. The purpose of this randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled human laboratory study was to evaluate whether the interactive effects of drugs acting at opiate and NMDA glutamate receptors might partially explain the efficacy of naltrexone for the treatment of alcoholism, that is, whether naltrexone 25 mg pretreatment would modulate ketamine effects in healthy human subjects. Two groups of healthy subjects were studied. An initial group (n=31) received a perception-altering subanesthetic dose of ketamine (bolus of 0.23 mg/kg over 1 min followed by a 60-min infusion of 0.58 mg/kg or saline bolus and infusion). A second group (n=24) completed the same testing procedures, but received a subperceptual ketamine dose (bolus 0.081 mg/kg over 10 min followed by an infusion of 0.4 mg/kg/h). Ketamine produced positive symptoms, negative symptoms, emotional discomfort, and cognitive effects as measured by the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) in a dose-related fashion. The lower ketamine dose produced subjective effects similar to two standard ethanol drinks, whereas the higher ketamine dose produced effects similar to five standard drinks. Although naltrexone produced no significant behavioral effects, it significantly magnified the increase in the total PANSS score produced by the lower subperceptual dose of ketamine, but not the higher perception-altering dose of ketamine. These data suggest that the interplay of opiate receptor antagonism and NMDA receptor antagonism may be relevant to the protective effects of naltrexone on alcohol consumption via potentiation of dysphoric effects associated with the NMDA receptor antagonist effects of ethanol. However, these data suggest that at levels of NMDA receptor antagonism associated with heavy drinking, this protective effect of naltrexone on drinking is no longer present.

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