Glutamate and its receptors in the pathophysiology and treatment of major depressive disorder

Mark J. Niciu, Dawn F. Ionescu, Erica M. Richards, Carlos A. Zarate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Monoaminergic neurotransmitter (serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine) mechanisms of disease dominated the research landscape in the pathophysiology and treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) for more than 50 years and still dominate available treatment options. However, the sum of all brain neurons that use monoamines as their primary neurotransmitter is\20 %. In addition, most patients treated with monoaminergic antidepressants are left with significant residual symptoms and psychosocial disability not to mention side effects, e.g., sexual dysfunction. In the past several decades, there has been greater focus on the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the human brain, glutamate, in the pathophysiology and treatment of MDD. Although several preclinical and human magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies had already implicated glutamatergic abnormalities in the human brain, it was rocketed by the discovery that the Nmethyl- D-aspartate receptor antagonist ketamine has rapid and potent antidepressant effects in even the most treatment- resistant MDD patients, including those who failed to respond to electroconvulsive therapy and who have active suicidal ideation. In this review, we will first provide a brief introduction to glutamate and its receptors in the mammalian brain. We will then review the clinical evidence for glutamatergic dysfunction in MDD, the discovery and progress-to-date with ketamine as a rapidly acting antidepressant, and other glutamate receptor modulators (including proprietary medications) for treatment-resistant depression. We will finally conclude by offering potential future directions necessary to realize the enormous therapeutic promise of glutamatergic antidepressants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)907-924
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neural Transmission
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 8 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Glutamate
  • Glutamate receptor
  • Ketamine
  • Major depressive disorder
  • NMDA receptor antagonist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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