Neurocognitive impairment in drug-free patients with major depressive disorder

Br J Psychiatry. 2003 Mar;182:214-20. doi: 10.1192/bjp.182.3.214.


Background: Although neurocognitive impairment has been widely reported in major depressive disorder (MDD), confounding factors, such as the effects of psychotropic medication, have rarely been controlled for.

Aims: To examine neurocognitive function in medication-free patients with MDD and healthy controls.

Method: Forty-four patients meeting DSM-IV criteria for MDD, all psychotropic-medication-free for at least 6 weeks, and 44 demographically matched, healthy comparison subjects completed a comprehensive neurocognitive battery.

Results: Patients with depression were impaired significantly in a range of cognitive domains, including attention and executive function and visuospatial learning and memory, compared with controls. Motor and psychomotor functions were intact. Severity of depression correlated with learning and memory performance, but not executive function.

Conclusions: Pronounced neurocognitive impairment was found in this sample of young adult out-patients with MDD. This is not attributable to the confounding effects of psychotropic medication and could therefore provide an objective marker of brain dysfunction in depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychomotor Performance