Rationale: The precise nature of the impact of the N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist, ketamine, upon human episodic memory, has yet to be elucidated fully.
Objectives: This study sought to assess the effects of ketamine on the sub-processes facilitating memory encoding and retrieval.
Methods: We evaluated the effects of the drug on a series of memory performance measures depending upon whether it was administered at the encoding or retrieval stage and on the nature of the encoding task used. Twelve healthy volunteers participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, within-subjects study. Intravenous infusions of placebo, 50 ng/ml ketamine or 100 ng/ml ketamine were administered. We investigated the effects of ketamine on three key aspects of episodic memory: encoding vs retrieval processes, source memory, and depth of processing. Data were analysed using both multinomial modelling and standard measures of item discrimination and response bias.
Results: Deleterious effects of ketamine on episodic memory were primarily attributable to its effects on encoding, rather than retrieval processes. Recognition memory was impaired for items encoded at an intermediate level of processing, but preserved for shallowly and deeply encoded items. Increased source guessing bias was also observed when encoding took place under ketamine.
Conclusions: The effects of ketamine upon episodic memory seem, therefore, to predominate at encoding. Furthermore, our results are also consistent with a specific impairment of encoding processes that result in subsequent recollective, as opposed to familiarity-based, retrieval. The observed effects are compatible with memory deficits seen in schizophrenia and thus provide some support for the ketamine model of the disease.