Prolonged analgesic effect of ketamine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor inhibitor, in patients with chronic pain

T Rabben, P Skjelbred, I Oye
Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 1999, 289 (2): 1060-6
We examined the role of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in chronic (pathological) pain in humans by using the NMDA receptor antagonist ketamine as a probe. Thirty patients with neuropathic pain in the trigeminal area were given an i.m. injection of ketamine 0.4 mg/kg combined with midazolam 0.05 mg/kg. Pethidine 1.0 mg/kg served as a control. Three different response patterns were observed. Ketamine caused a long-term (6-24 h) analgesic effect partly dissociated from the mental side effects in 8 of the 26 patients who completed the study; these patients also had a slight analgesic effect of pethidine. In nine patients, ketamine caused a short-lasting (<2 h) analgesic effect closely associated with the mental side effects, whereas pethidine caused little or no analgesia. The remaining nine patients did not experience any reduction of pain after either drug in spite of characteristic side effects. One week after the i.m. challenge the patients received either 4.0 mg/kg ketamine hydrochloride or placebo capsules to be taken orally as a nightly dose for three consecutive nights. Five of the eight patients who had a long-term analgesic effect of the i.m. challenge reported decreased pain on days after ketamine. None of the others reported an analgesic effect. The phenomenon of long-term depression of pain in a subgroup of patients was thus confirmed when ketamine was given p.o. These findings indicate that NMDA receptors are involved in the perception and maintenance of pathological pain in some patients. In others, pain appears to be mediated by NMDA receptor-independent mechanisms. We suggest that NMDA receptor-independent transmission in central pain pathways may contribute to the reduced efficiency of analgesic drugs often seen in chronic pain states.

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