Preventive effect of beta-adrenoceptor blockade on glucocorticoid-induced memory retrieval deficits

Am J Psychiatry. 2007 Jun;164(6):967-9. doi: 10.1176/ajp.2007.164.6.967.


Objective: Elevated glucocorticoid levels impair retrieval of emotional information, and animal studies indicate that this effect depends on concurrent emotional arousal-induced increases in noradrenergic transmission within the brain. The authors investigated whether the beta-adrenoceptor antagonist propranolol blocks glucocorticoid-induced memory retrieval impairments in human subjects.

Method: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 42 healthy volunteers were presented a set of words with variable emotionality and asked to learn them for recall. A day later, cortisone (25 mg), propranolol (40 mg), or both drugs were administered orally 1 hour before a free-recall test.

Results: Cortisone selectively impaired the recall of emotionally arousing words by 42%. This impairment was blocked by the concurrent administration of propranolol. Propranolol alone did not affect recall of either emotional or neutral words.

Conclusions: A pharmacological blockade of beta-adrenoceptors prevents glucocorticoid-induced memory retrieval deficits in human subjects. This finding may have important implications for the treatment of memory deficits in hypercortisolemic states, such as stress and depression.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Cortisone / pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Memory Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Mental Recall / drug effects*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Placebos
  • Propranolol / pharmacology*
  • Propranolol / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / drug effects
  • Verbal Learning / drug effects


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Placebos
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • Propranolol
  • Cortisone