Lithium augmentation of ketamine increases insulin signaling and antidepressant-like active stress coping in a rodent model of treatment-resistant depression

J. Blair Price, Clarissa G. Yates, Brooke A. Morath, Sam K. Van De Wakker, Nathanael J. Yates, Kim Butters, Mark A. Frye, Sean L. McGee, Susannah J. Tye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lithium, a mood stabilizer and common adjunctive treatment for refractory depression, shares overlapping mechanisms of action with ketamine and enhances the duration of ketamine’s antidepressant actions in rodent models at sub-therapeutic doses. Yet, in a recent clinical trial, lithium co-treatment with ketamine failed to improve antidepressant outcomes in subjects previously shown to respond to ketamine alone. The potential for lithium augmentation to improve antidepressant outcomes in ketamine nonresponders, however, has not been explored. The current study examined the behavioral, molecular and metabolic actions of lithium and ketamine co-treatment in a rodent model of antidepressant resistance. Male Wistar rats were administered adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH; 100 µg/day, i.p. over 14 days) and subsequently treated with ketamine (10 mg/kg; 2 days; n = 12), lithium (37 mg/kg; 2 days; n = 12), ketamine + lithium (10 mg/kg + 37 mg/kg; 2 days; n = 12), or vehicle saline (0.9%; n = 12). Rats were subjected to open field (6 min) and forced swim tests (6 min). Peripheral blood and brain prefrontal cortical (PFC) tissue was collected one hour following stress exposure. Western blotting was used to determine the effects of treatment on extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK); mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), phospho kinase B (Akt), and glycogen synthase kinase-3ß (GSK3ß) protein levels in the infralimbic (IL) and prelimbic (PL) subregions of the PFC. Prefrontal oxygen consumption rate (OCR) and extracellular acidification rates (ECAR) were also determined in anterior PFC tissue at rest and following stimulation with brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα). Blood plasma levels of mTOR and insulin were determined using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs). Overall, rats receiving ketamine+lithium displayed a robust antidepressant response to the combined treatment as demonstrated through significant reductions in immobility time (p < 0.05) and latency to immobility (p < 0.01). These animals also had higher expression of plasma mTOR (p < 0.01) and insulin (p < 0.001). Tissue bioenergetics analyses revealed that combined ketamine+lithium treatment did not significantly alter the respiratory response to BDNF or TNFα. Animals receiving both ketamine and lithium had significantly higher phosphorylation (p)-to-total expression ratios of mTOR (p < 0.001) and Akt (p < 0.01), and lower ERK in the IL compared to control animals. In contrast, pmTOR/mTOR levels were reduced in the PL of ketamine+lithium treated animals, while pERK/ERK expression levels were elevated. Taken together, these data demonstrate that lithium augmentation of ketamine in antidepressant nonresponsive animals improves antidepressant-like behavioral responses under stress, together with peripheral insulin efflux and region-specific PFC insulin signaling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number598
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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