Test-retest reliability of the BOLD pharmacological MRI response to ketamine in healthy volunteers

S. De Simoni*, A. J. Schwarz, O. G. O'Daly, Andre Marquand, C. Brittain, C. Gonzales, S. Stephenson, S. C. R. Williams, M. A. Mehta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


The pharmacological MRI (phMRI) technique is being increasingly used in both pre-clinical and clinical models to investigate pharmacological effects on task-free brain function. Ketamine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antagonist, induces a strong phMRI response and represents a promising pharmacological model to investigate the role of glutamatergic abnormalities in psychiatric symptomatology. The aim of this study was to assess whether the brain response to ketamine is reliable in order to validate ketamine phMRI as a mechanistic marker of glutamatergic dysfunction and to determine its utility in repeated measures designs to detect the modulatory effect of other drugs. Thus we assessed the test-retest reliability of the brain response to ketamine in healthy volunteers and identified an optimal modelling approach with reliability as our selection criterion.

PhMRI data were collected from 10 healthy male participants, at rest, on two separate occasions. Sub-anaesthetic doses of I.V. ketamine infusion (target plasma levels 50 ng/mL and 75 ng/mL) were administered in both sessions. Test-retest reliability of the ketamine phMRI response was assessed voxel-wise and on pre-defined ROIs for a range of temporal design matrices including different combinations of nuisance regressors designed to model shape variance, linear drift and head motion. Effect sizes are also reported.

All models showed a significant and widespread response to low-dose ketamine in predicted cerebral networks and as expected, increasing the number of model parameters improved model fit. Reliability of the predefined ROIs differed between the different models assessed. Using reliability as the selection criterion, a model capturing subject motion and linear drift performed the best across two sessions. The anatomical distribution of effects for all models was consistent with results of previous imaging studies in humans with BOLD signal increases in regions including midline cingulate and supracingulate cortex, thalamus, insula, anterior temporal lobe and ventrolateral prefrontal structures, and BOLD signal decreases in the subgenual cingulate cortex.

This study represents the first investigation of the test-retest reliability of the BOLD phMRI response to acute ketamine challenge. All models tested were effective at describing the ketamine response although the design matrix associated with the highest reliability may represent a robust and well-characterised ketamine phMRI assay more suitable for repeated-measures designs. This ketamine assay is applicable as a model of neurotransmitter dysfunction suitable as a pharmacodynamic imaging tool to test and validate modulatory interventions, as a model of NMDA hypofunction in psychiatric disorders, and may be adapted to understand potential antidepressant and analgesic effects of NMDAR antagonists. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-90
Number of pages16
Early online date23 Sept 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • phMRI
  • Test-retest reliability
  • Ketamine


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