Preclinical evidence in support of repurposing sub-anesthetic ketamine as a treatment for L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia

Mitchell J. Bartlett, Andrew J. Flores, Tony Ye, Saskia I. Smidt, Hannah K. Dollish, Jennifer A. Stancati, Drew C. Farrell, Kate L. Parent, Kristian P. Doyle, David G. Besselsen, Michael L. Heien, Stephen L. Cowen, Kathy Steece-Collier, Scott J. Sherman, Torsten Falk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease. Pharmacotherapy with L-DOPA remains the gold-standard therapy for PD, but is often limited by the development of the common side effect of L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia (LID), which can become debilitating. The only effective treatment for disabling dyskinesia is surgical therapy (neuromodulation or lesioning), therefore effective pharmacological treatment of LID is a critical unmet need. Here, we show that sub-anesthetic doses of ketamine attenuate the development of LID in a rodent model, while also having acute anti-parkinsonian activity. The long-term anti-dyskinetic effect is mediated by brain-derived neurotrophic factor-release in the striatum, followed by activation of ERK1/2 and mTOR pathway signaling. This ultimately leads to morphological changes in dendritic spines on striatal medium spiny neurons that correlate with the behavioral effects, specifically a reduction in the density of mushroom spines, a dendritic spine phenotype that shows a high correlation with LID. These molecular and cellular changes match those occurring in hippocampus and cortex after effective sub-anesthetic ketamine treatment in preclinical models of depression, and point to common mechanisms underlying the therapeutic efficacy of ketamine for these two disorders. These preclinical mechanistic studies complement current ongoing clinical testing of sub-anesthetic ketamine for the treatment of LID by our group, and provide further evidence in support of repurposing ketamine to treat individuals with PD. Given its clinically proven therapeutic benefit for both treatment-resistant depression and several pain states, very common co-morbidities in PD, sub-anesthetic ketamine could provide multiple therapeutic benefits for PD in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113413
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • Depression
  • ERK1/2
  • Levodopa
  • Parkinson's disease
  • TrkB
  • mTOR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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