Neuronal atrophy and alterations of synaptic structure and function in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of depression, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are largely unknown. The protein kinase Mζ (PKMζ), a brain-specific atypical protein kinase C isoform, is important for maintaining long-term potentiation and storing memory. In the present study, we explored the role of PKMζ in mPFC in two rat models of depression, chronic unpredictable stress (CUS) and learned helplessness. The involvement of PKMζ in the antidepressant effects of conventional antidepressants and ketamine were also investigated. We found that chronic stress decreased the expression of PKMζ in the mPFC and hippocampus but not in the orbitofrontal cortex. Overexpression of PKMζ in mPFC prevented the depressive-like and anxiety-like behaviors induced by CUS, and reversed helplessness behaviors. Inhibition of PKMζ in mPFC by expressing a PKMζ dominant-negative mutant induced depressive-like behaviors after subthreshold unpredictable stress and increased learned helplessness behavior. Furthermore, stress-induced deficits in synaptic proteins and decreases in dendritic density and the frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents in the mPFC were prevented by PKMζ overexpression and potentiated by PKMζ inhibition in subthreshold stress rats. The antidepressants fluoxetine, desipramine and ketamine increased PKMζ expression in mPFC and PKMζ mediated the antidepressant effects of ketamine. These findings identify PKMζ in mPFC as a critical mediator of depressive-like behavior and antidepressant response, providing a potential therapeutic target in developing novel antidepressants.