, Volume 162, Issue 4, pp 351-363
Date: 05 Jun 2002

Differential effects of amitriptyline, nefazodone and paroxetine on performance and brain indices of visual selective attention and working memory

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Rationale. Antidepressants may vary widely in their potential to impair cognitive and psychomotor functions. Little is known about their effects on event-related brain potentials (ERPs).

Objectives. To compare the effects of three pharmacologically different antidepressants on performance and ERPs in tasks of selective attention and working memory.

Methods. Subjects were treated for 8 days with amitriptyline (sedative/anticholinergic TCA), nefazodone (5-HT2 receptor antagonist), paroxetine (SSRI) and placebo, in a double-blind, crossover design. Measurements were carried out on day 1 and 8 of each treatment period. A task was used in which memory load (two and four items) and attention (focused, divided) were orthogonally varied.

Results. On day 1 amitriptyline increased reaction times (focused attention) and the percentage of misses (load 4>load 2) and false alarms. Sensitivity (A′) was reduced as a function of memory load. Effects were greatly diminished on day 8. The ERP analysis yielded a reduced early frontal positive difference wave related to memory load (day 1). Attention-related search negativity was slightly prolonged. P3 latency (stimulus evaluation time) was prolonged. P3 amplitude was reduced (mainly on day 8) suggesting diminished attention capacity. Nefazodone increased reaction times and miss rates and reduced sensitivity (A′) on day 8 only. Paroxetine speeded responses on day 1 and slightly increased miss rates on day 8. Performance effects of nefazodone and paroxetine did not interact with the task factors. Search negativity and P3 measures were not affected.

Conclusions. The results suggest that the pharmacologically selective serotonergic antidepressants lack the specific memory and attention deficits seen with amitriptyline. Both performance and ERP data suggest that paroxetine and nefazodone may influence response-related processes, while for nefazodone an effect on other processes cannot be excluded.

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