Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity

Calvin Ly, Alexandra C. Greb, Lindsay P. Cameron, Jonathan M. Wong, Eden V. Barragan, Paige C. Wilson, Kyle F. Burbach, Sina Soltanzadeh Zarandi, Alexander Sood, Michael R. Paddy, Whitney C. Duim, Megan Dennis, A Kimberley Usrey, Kassandra M. Ori-McKenney, John Gray, David Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

201 Scopus citations


Atrophy of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a key role in the pathophysiology of depression and related disorders. The ability to promote both structural and functional plasticity in the PFC has been hypothesized to underlie the fast-acting antidepressant properties of the dissociative anesthetic ketamine. Here, we report that, like ketamine, serotonergic psychedelics are capable of robustly increasing neuritogenesis and/or spinogenesis both in vitro and in vivo. These changes in neuronal structure are accompanied by increased synapse number and function, as measured by fluorescence microscopy and electrophysiology. The structural changes induced by psychedelics appear to result from stimulation of the TrkB, mTOR, and 5-HT2A signaling pathways and could possibly explain the clinical effectiveness of these compounds. Our results underscore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and, importantly, identify several lead scaffolds for medicinal chemistry efforts focused on developing plasticity-promoting compounds as safe, effective, and fast-acting treatments for depression and related disorders. Ly et al. demonstrate that psychedelic compounds such as LSD, DMT, and DOI increase dendritic arbor complexity, promote dendritic spine growth, and stimulate synapse formation. These cellular effects are similar to those produced by the fast-acting antidepressant ketamine and highlight the potential of psychedelics for treating depression and related disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3170-3182
Number of pages13
JournalCell Reports
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 12 2018


  • depression
  • DMT
  • ketamine
  • LSD
  • MDMA
  • neural plasticity
  • noribogaine
  • psychedelic
  • spinogenesis
  • synaptogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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