The effects of desvenlafaxine on neurocognitive and work functioning in employed outpatients with major depressive disorder

J Affect Disord. 2016 Oct:203:55-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.05.074. Epub 2016 May 31.


Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with staggering personal and economic costs, a major proportion of which stem from impaired psychosocial and occupational functioning. Few studies have examined the impact of depression-related cognitive dysfunction on work functioning. We examined the association between neurocognitive and work functioning in employed patients with MDD.

Methods: Employed adult outpatients (n=36) with MDD of at least moderate severity (≥23 on the Montgomery Asberg Depression Rating Scale, MADRS) and subjective cognitive complaints completed neurocognitive tests (CNS Vital Signs computerized battery) and validated self-reports of their work functioning (LEAPS, HPQ) before and after 8 weeks of open-label treatment with flexibly-dosed desvenlafaxine 50-100mg/day. Relationships between neurocognitive tests and functional measures were examined using bivariate correlational and multiple regression analyses, as appropriate. An ANCOVA model examined whether significant change in neurocognitive performance, defined as improvement of ≥1SD in the Neurocognition Index (NCI) from baseline to post-treatment, was associated with improved outcomes.

Results: Patients showed significant improvements in depressive symptom, neurocognitive, and work functioning measures following treatment with desvenlafaxine (e.g., MADRS response=77% and MADRS remission=49%). There were no significant correlations between changes in NCI or cognitive domain subscales and changes in MADRS, LEAPS, or HPQ scores. However, patients demonstrating significant improvement in NCI scores (n=11, 29%) had significantly greater improvement in clinical and work functioning outcomes compared to those without NCI improvement.

Limitations: The limitations of this study include small sample size, lack of a placebo control group, and lack of a healthy comparison group. Our sample also had more years of education and higher premorbid intelligence than the general population.

Conclusions: There were no significant correlations between changes in neurocognitive and work functioning measures in this study. However, meaningful improvement in neurocognitive functioning with desvenlafaxine was associated with greater improvement in both mood and occupational outcomes. This suggests that addressing cognitive dysfunction may improve clinical and occupational outcomes in employed patients with MDD. However, the relationship between neurocognitive and work functioning in MDD is complex and requires further study.

Trial registration: NCT01468610.

Keywords: Cognition; Depressive disorders; Disability; Functioning; Occupational functioning.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Desvenlafaxine Succinate / pharmacology*
  • Desvenlafaxine Succinate / therapeutic use
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Occupational Health
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Self Report
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Desvenlafaxine Succinate

Associated data