Episodic Visual Learning/Memory and Attentional Flexibility in Patients With Major Depressive Disorder After Clinically Effective Electroconvulsive Therapy

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This study is a follow-up of a previous one reporting that the neuropsychological profile of pharmacoresistant patients with major depressive disorder referred for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, ECT group) contrasted with that of their pharmacorespondent counterparts (NECT group). The NECT group exhibited severe visuospatial memory and minor executive deficits; the ECT group presented the reverse pattern. In that same ECT group, the current follow-up study examined the effects of clinically effective ECT on both cognitive domains 2 months later.


Fifteen ECT patients were administered Hamilton Depression (HAMD-24), Hamilton Anxiety (HAMA), Mini-Mental State Examination Scales and 5 tests of Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery at intake (pre-ECT), end of ECT course (post-ECT), and 2 months thereafter (follow-up).


Electroconvulsive therapy was effective in relieving clinical depression. After a post-ECT decline, the patients exhibited significant improvement in both Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery, paired associate learning, and Stockings of Cambridge. By contrast, their major pre-ECT deficit in intra/extradimensional set shifting remained virtually unaffected.


Our findings suggest that attentional flexibility deficits may constitute a neuropsychological trait-like feature of pharmacoresistant, ECT-referred major depressive disorder patients. However, this deficit does not seem generalized, given patient improvement in episodic visual learning/memory and some indication of improvement in spatial planning after ECT.

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