Modafinil Improves Episodic Memory and Working Memory Cognition in Patients With Remitted Depression: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2017 Mar;2(2):115-122. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2016.11.009.


Background: Cognitive dysfunction is a core feature of depression and tends to persist even after mood symptoms recover, leading to detrimental effects on clinical and functional outcomes. However, most currently available treatments have not typically addressed cognition. Modafinil has been shown to have beneficial effects on cognitive function and therefore has the potential to improve cognition in depression. The objective of this double-blind, placebo-controlled study was to investigate the effects of modafinil on cognitive functions in patients with remitted depression.

Methods: In total, 60 patients with remitted depression participated in the study. Cognitive functions were evaluated with tests of working memory, planning, attention, and episodic memory from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery at the baseline session and after treatment. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel groups design was used to assess the effects of single-dose (200 mg) modafinil (n = 30) or placebo (n = 30) on cognition and fatigue. The main outcome measures were neurocognitive test scores from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery. Visual analogue scales for subjective feelings and fatigue were used as secondary measures.

Results: The modafinil group had significantly better performance on tests of episodic memory (p = .01, ηp2 = .10) and working memory (p = .04, ηp2 = .06). Modafinil did not improve planning or sustained attention.

Conclusions: This study suggested that modafinil (200 mg) could improve episodic memory and working memory performance in patients with remitted depression. Modafinil may have potential as a therapeutic agent to help remitted depressed patients with persistent cognitive difficulties.

Keywords: Cognition; Cognitive enhancer; Depression; Memory; Modafinil; Treatment.