Behavioral and biochemical sensitivity to low doses of ketamine: Influence of estrous cycle in C57BL/6 mice

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Low-dose ketamine is a rapid-acting antidepressant, to which female rodents are more sensitive as compared to males. However, the mechanism mediating this sex difference in ketamine sensitivity remains elusive.


We sought to determine whether male and female mice differ in their behavioral sensitivity to low doses of ketamine, and uncover how ovarian hormones influence females’ ketamine sensitivity. We also aimed to uncover some of the molecular mechanism(s) in mood-related brain regions that mediate sex differences in ketamine antidepressant effects.


Male and female mice (freely-cycling, diestrus 1 [D1], proestrus [Pro], or D1 treated with an estrogen receptor (ER) α, ERβ, or progesterone receptor (PR) agonist) received ketamine (0, 1.5, or 3 mg/kg, intraperitoneally) and were tested in the forced swim test (FST) 30 min later. Ketamine's influence over synaptic plasticity markers in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus (HPC) of males, D1, and Pro females was quantified by Western blot 1 h post-treatment.


Males, freely cycling females, D1 and Pro females exhibited antidepressant-like responses to 3 mg/kg ketamine. Pro females were the only group where ketamine exhibited an antidepressant effect at 1.5 mg/kg. D1 females treated with an agonist for ERα or ERβ exhibited an antidepressant-like response to 1.5 mg/kg ketamine. Ketamine (3 mg/kg) increased synaptic plasticity-related proteins in the PFC and HPC of males, D1, and Pro females. Yet, Pro females exhibited an increase in p-Akt and p-CaMKIIα in response to 1.5 and 3 mg/kg ketamine.


Our results indicate that females’ enhanced sensitivity to ketamine during Pro is likely mediated through estradiol acting on ERα and ERβ, leading to greater activation of synaptic plasticity-related kinases within the PFC and HPC.

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