Ketamine Modulates the Neural Correlates of Reward Processing in Unmedicated Patients in Remission From Depression

Vasileia Kotoula*, Argyris Stringaris, Nuria Mackes, Ndabezinhle Mazibuko, Peter C.T. Hawkins, Maura Furey, H. Valerie Curran, Mitul A. Mehta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
88 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Ketamine as an antidepressant improves anhedonia as early as 2 hours after infusion. These drug effects are thought to be exerted via actions on reward-related brain areas—yet these actions remain largely unknown. Our study investigates ketamine's effects during the anticipation and receipt of an expected reward, after the psychotomimetic effects of ketamine have passed, when early antidepressant effects are reported. Methods: We examined ketamine's effects during the anticipation and receipt of expected rewards on predefined brain areas, namely, the dorsal and ventral striatum, ventral tegmental area, amygdala, and insula. We recruited 37 male and female participants with remitted depression who were free from symptoms and antidepressant treatments at the time of the scan. Participants were scanned 2 hours after drug administration in a double-blind crossover design (ketamine: 0.5 mg/kg and placebo) while performing a monetary reward task. Results: A significant main effect of ketamine was observed across all regions of interest during the anticipation and feedback phases of win and no-win trials. The drug effects were particularly prominent in the nucleus accumbens and putamen, which showed increased activation on the receipt of smaller rewards compared with neutral. The levels of (2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine 2 hours after infusion significantly correlated with the activation observed in the ventral tegmental area for that contrast. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that ketamine can produce detectable changes in reward-related brain areas 2 hours after infusion, which occur without symptom changes and support the idea that ketamine might improve reward-related symptoms via modulation of response to feedback.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-292
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number3
Early online date4 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • (2R,6R)-HNK
  • Feedback
  • Ketamine
  • Monetary incentive delay (MID)
  • Reward-processing
  • VTA


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