Academic Minute Podcast

Rebecca Price, University of Pittsburgh – Ketamine and Depression

Treating those with depression is a vital endeavor in today’s society.

Rebecca Price, associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, gives a reason for hope.

Rebecca B. Price, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. She completed undergraduate studies in cognitive science at Stanford University and a PhD in Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University. She has been the recipient of an NIMH National Research Service Award (Predoctoral F31), Postdoctoral Research Scholarship (T32), Career Development Award (K23), and an NIMH Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists (NIMH BRAINS) R01. She received the Edwin B. Newman Graduate Research Award from the American Psychological Assocation/Psi Chi, the Smadar Levin Award from the Society for Research in Psychopathology, the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research from Rutgers University, the Donald F. Klein Early Career Investigator Award from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, and was named a “Rising Star” by the Association for Psychological Science.

Dr. Price’s research program is broadly dedicated to pushing the field of cognitive neuroscience towards a more direct clinical impact. She hopes to specify neurocognitive mechanisms relevant to affective dysfunction, and then to target these mechanisms in patients using innovative methods optimized to promote symptom relief that is both efficient and enduring. Her research asks questions such as: Can we develop and test effective new treatments and synergistic bio-behavioral treatment combinations that are based on a growing understanding of how the brain works? Can we leverage technological advances to reach more patients with these treatments? Can we use individual differences in neurocognitive processes to match specific people to specific treatments? Dr. Price has investigated these questions primarily in the context of affective conditions such as anxiety, depression, compulsive behaviors, and suicidality. She has recently focused on developing novel synergistic treatment strategies coupling computer-based interventions with 1) intravenous ketamine or 2) non-invasive neuromodulation.

Ketamine and Depression


Depression is a highly disabling condition that affects an estimated 280 million people globally.

Over two decades ago, researchers first discovered that low doses of intravenous ketamine had rapid-acting antidepressant effects. Ketamine is a widely used anesthetic medication that has been shown to be safe when administered under medical supervision.

This discovery opened up a brand new possibility—to begin relieving symptoms within a single day.

A key question is how to keep that relief going without relying solely on repeated infusions.

Our research is the first to demonstrate that the rapid effects of ketamine can be made more enduring with simple computer exercises that would be easy to provide to patients in a wide range of settings.

In our study of 154 adult patients with depression, patients that received a ketamine infusion, as opposed to a saline infusion, experienced substantial relief from depression on the first day.

Some patients in our trial then returned a day later to begin four days in a row of our novel digital exercises. In these short exercises, we showed them repeated pairings of self-related words and images – such as the letter “I” and photos of the patient – paired up repeatedly with positive cues—words like “good” and “lovable” as well as photos of strangers smiling.

We targeted this period within four days of the infusion because we expected ketamine would quickly help restore the brain’s healthy capacity to adjust and learn.

These patients who received ketamine followed by the digital exercises continued to report decreased depression severity all the way out to the last follow-up interview, one month after ketamine—meaning the exercises, at a minimum, tripled the duration of a single dose, when compared to others in our study who received ketamine without the computer exercises.

We hope we can extend this effect even longer and expand the findings to other patient groups with psychological distress.

Read More:

[American Journal of Psychiatry] – A Novel, Brief, Fully Automated Intervention to Extend the Antidepressant Effect of a Single Ketamine Infusion: A Randomized Clinical Trial

[The Conversation] – Ketamine paired with looking at smiling faces to build positive associations holds promise for helping people with treatment-resistant depression

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Institute of Mental Health


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