Drug That Improves Cognitive Functioning Could Help With Depression

By Victoria Kim 09/05/14

Vortioxetine has shown promise in enhancing brain function by boosting concentration, motivation, and interest in life.

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One aspect of depression that is often overlooked is its impact on learning and memory. Memory problems and difficulty absorbing and retaining information can have a “much greater impact” on an individual than is commonly understood, according to Dr. Jim Bolton, a consultant psychiatrist and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“You may be able unable to take in information from a work meeting, manage your finances, or even learn from your mistakes,” Bolton said.

A new antidepressant called vortioxetine, also known by its trade name Brintellix, has been proven to have cognitive enhancing effects on rats, and preliminary trials show it provides similar benefits for people suffering from depression.

The rats were treated with chemicals that “deplete other certain chemicals in their brain that impair their memory,” Dr. Andrew Jones, medical director of Lunbeck, a company involved in developing the drug, explained. “What we found is that vortioxetine reverses the deficit we created.”

“Depression interferes with our ability to learn and remember information for many, many reasons,” Bolton said. “If a patient is preoccupied with how low they’re feeling—and with any worries they may have—it’s more difficult to focus. If you can’t focus, then it’s much more difficult to learn.”

The drug, which is already available in the United States, does not elevate brain functioning above the norm, but “returns functioning to the state it would be at in a person without depression,” Jones said.

As a person’s concentration, motivation, and interest in life improve after recovering from a bout of depression, their memory and ability to learn usually also improve, Bolton explained. Vortioxetine’s ability to improve cognitive functioning is a significant advantage over other antidepressant medications. The effect that depression has on learning and memory is very complex.

“The systems in the brain that could cause depression and those that are involved in cognition and memory are all interrelated, and those interrelations are very complex,” Jones said. “A relative lack of serotonin is likely to be a factor in cognitive problems, but this could be because it has an indirect effect on other brain chemicals known to be involved in learning and memory, such as gamma-Aminobutyric acid and glutamate.”

Bolton said the next step is to carry out more tests and encourages other researchers to independently study vortioxetine as the current data has been made available in the public domain.

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