Modafinil may improve memory in patients with depression

Written by Naamah Maundrell

Researchers from the University of Cambridge (UK) report that the eugeroic drug modafinil – which is currently used to treat narcolepsy – may improve the memory of individuals with depression. The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, described how those who received modafinil demonstrated improvements in episodic and working memory, making fewer errors when tested.
Researchers suggest that the drug could facilitate the successful return to work of patients following depression; as currently there is no treatment specifically targeting cognitive deficits in depression.

In total, 60 patients who had been diagnosed with depression – aged 18–65 years – participated in the randomized, double-blind study involving the completion of computerized memory, attention and planning tasks. Scientists observed that those who received modafinil had improved episodic and working memory.

Lead author Muzaffer Kaser (University of Cambridge) commented: “These results are very promising. GPs or psychiatrists often hear complaints of concentration or memory difficulties from patients with depression, but we are not good enough at treating these symptoms. Our study shows that modafinil may be a feasible option to tackle persistent cognitive problems in depression.”

Whether the improvements would be seen over a longer period is not yet known, so future research will be needed to investigate modafinil in a longer term study and establish whether it continues to improve cognition.

Kathryn Adcock (Medical Research Council, London, UK) concluded: “Preventing relapse is an integral part of any ongoing treatment strategy for depression, and some people can understandably feel hampered if they find it hard to get back to their previous capacity when they go back to work after experiencing depression. These results suggest there may be a way to help these people in their recovery from depression and that’s really encouraging.”

Sources: Kaser M, Deakin JB, Michael A et al. 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 doi:10.1016/j.bpsc.2016.11.009 (2016);