Intraoperative ketamine for prevention of depressive symptoms after major surgery in older adults: an international, multicentre, double-blind, randomised clinical trial

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Ketamine is a general anaesthetic with anti-depressant effects at subanaesthetic doses. We hypothesised that intraoperative administration of ketamine would prevent or mitigate postoperative depressive symptoms in surgical patients.


We conducted an international, randomised clinical trial testing the effects of intraoperative administration of ketamine [0.5 mg kg−1 (Lo-K) or 1.0 mg kg−1 (Hi-K)] vs control [saline placebo (P)] in patients ≥60 yr old undergoing major surgery with general anaesthesia. We administered the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 before the operation, on postoperative day (POD) 3 (primary outcome), and on POD30 to assess depressive symptoms, a secondary outcome of the original trial.


There was no significant difference on POD3 in the proportion of patients with symptoms suggestive of depression between the placebo [23/156 (14.7%)] and combined ketamine (Lo-K plus Hi-K) [61/349 (17.5%)] groups [difference = –2.7%; 95% confidence interval (CI), 5.0% to –9.4%; P=0.446]. Of the total cohort, 9.6% (64/670; 95% CI, 7.6–12.0%) had symptoms suggestive of depression before operation, which increased to 16.6% (84/505; 95% CI, 13.6–20.1%) on POD3, and decreased to 11.9% (47/395; 95% CI, 9.1–15.5%) on POD30. Of the patients with depressive symptoms on POD3 and POD30, 51% and 49%, respectively, had no prior history of depression or depressive symptoms.


Major surgery is associated with new-onset symptoms suggestive of depression in patients ≥60 yr old. Intraoperative administration of subanaesthetic ketamine does not appear to prevent or improve depressive symptoms.

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