Depression is usually associated with episodic memory impairment. The main clinical features of depression associated with that memory impairment are not clearly defined. The main goal of that study was to assess the role of the diagnostic subtypes and the number of depressive episodes on the memory performance of acute unipolar (UP) and bipolar (BP) depressed patients.Twenty-three patients with a first major depressive episode (FE), 28 patients meeting DSM-IV criteria for UP recurrent depression (UR) and 18 BP patients with recurrent depression were compared with 88 healthy subjects on a verbal episodic memory task. Patients suffering from a first depressive episode did not show verbal memory impairment as compared to normal controls. Unlike FE patients, UR and BP patients exhibited verbal memory deficits with impaired free recall and normal cued recall and recognition. The memory deficits of the UR and BP patients was present in the first free recall trial. Depressed patients improved their memory performance across the three trials of the task at the same rate than normal controls. Our results suggest that the number of depressive episodes has a negative influence on verbal memory performance of acute depressed patients. The effects of the repetition of the depressive episodes are not modulated by the subtypes of depression and may reflect sensitization to the cognitive impact of depression associated with increasing prefrontal dysfunction.