European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 59–71 | Cite as

Piracetam in developmental reading disorders: A review

  • Colin R. Wilsher
  • Eric A. Taylor


This paper reviews the studies that have examined piracetam, the first of the nootropic drugs, as a treatment for developmental reading disorder. In various studies, 751 children have completed treatment in controlled double-blind trials using standardised tests of reading as outcome measures. Quantitative and qualitative review suggests that the findings are best interpreted as showing a statistical superiority of piracetam over placebo. Mechanism of action and clinical significance are discussed. The effect size is modest, but the drug is well tolerated and the balance of benefit over hazard is encouraging for future use.


Placebo Clinical Significance Standardise Test Piracetam Qualitative Review 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Cet article fait part des études qui ont examiné le piracetam, le premier des produits “nootropiques” comme traitement des troubles développementaux de la lecture. Dans différentes études, 751 enfants ont effectué un traitement basé sur des essais en double aveugle, en utilisant des tests standardisés comme mesure des performances de lecture. Les études quantitatives et qualitatives suggèrent que les résultats sont interprétés comme montrant une supériorité statistique du piracetam sur le placebo. Les mécanismes d'action et la signification clinique sont discutés. Les effets sont modestes mais le produit est bien toléré et la supériorité des effets bénéfiques est encourageante pour un usage futur.


In dieser Übersichtsarbeit werden Studien analysiert, die die Auswirkung von Piracetam im Rahmen der Behandlung der Leseschwäche untersucht haben. Piracetam kam als erstes der nootropen Medikamente auf den Markt. In verschiedenen Studien haben insgesamt 751 Kinder eine medikamentöse Behandlung in kontrollierten Doppelblindstudien unter Anwendung standardisierter Lesetests abgeschlossen. Die quantitative und qualitative Auswertung zeigt, daß die Befunde am ehesten im Sinne einer statistischen Überlegenheit des Piracetams gegenüber Placebo zu werten sind. Die Wirkungsweise und die klinische Bedeutung werden diskutiert. Die Wirkung ist gering; das Medikament wird gut vertragen. Die positive Bilanz unter Berücksichtigung der Nebenwirkungen ist im Hinblick auf den weiteren Einsatz dieses Medikamentes ermutigend.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ackerman, P.T., Dykman, R.A., Holloway, C., Pall, N.P. & Gocio, M.Y. (1991). A trial of piracetam in two subgroups of students with dyslexia enrolled in summer tutoring.Journal of Learning Disabilities, 24, 542–549.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Associaton. (1980).Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: APA.Google Scholar
  3. Bradley, L. & Bryant, P.E. (1983). Categorizing sounds and learning to read — A causal connection.Nature, 301, 419–421.Google Scholar
  4. Chase, C.H., Schmitt, R.L., Russell, G. & Tallal, P. (1984). A new chemotherapeutic investigation: Piracetam effects on dyslexia.Annals of Dyslexia, 34, 29–48.Google Scholar
  5. Chase, C.H. & Tallal, P. (1987). Piracetam and dyslexia: a thirty-six week double blind clinical trial. In D. Bakker, H. de Bruyne, N. Bertin & C. Wilsher (Eds.)Child Health and Development, Vol. 5. Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. Basel: Karger.Google Scholar
  6. Chiarenza, G.A. (1987). Effect of piracetam on sensory-motor and cognitive processes. Neurophysiological analysis. In D. Bakker, H. de Bruyne, N. Bertin & C. Wilsher (Eds.)Child Health and Development, Vol. 5. Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. Basel: Karger.Google Scholar
  7. Cohen, J. (1977).Statistical Power for the Behavioural Sciences. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  8. Conners, C.K. & Reader, M. (1987). The effects of piracetam on reading achievement and visual event-related potentials in dyslexic children. In D. Bakker, H. de Bruyne, N. Bertin & C. Wilsher (Eds.)Child Health and Development, Vol. 5. Dyslexia and learning disorders. Basel: KargerGoogle Scholar
  9. Conners, C.K., Blouin, A.G., Winglee, M., Lougee, L., O'Donnell, D. & Smith, A. (1984). Piracetam and event-related potentials in dyslexic children.Psycho-pharmacology Bulletin, 20, 667–673.Google Scholar
  10. Conners, C.K., Blouin, A., Winglee, M., Lougee, L., O'Donnell, D. & Smith, A. (1986). Piracetam and event-related potentials in dyslexic males.International Journal of Psychophysiology, 4, 19–27.Google Scholar
  11. Conners, C.K., Reader, M., Caldwell, J., Clymer, R., Reiss, A., Adesman, A., Caldwell, L., Mayer, L. & Berg, M. (1987). The effects of piracetam upon visual event-related potentials in dyslexic children.Psychophysiology, 24, 513–521.Google Scholar
  12. Dilanni, M., Wilsher, C.R., Blank, M.S., Conners, C.K., Chase, C.H., Funkenstein, H., Helfgott, E., Holmes, J.M., Lougee, L., Maletta, G.J., Milewski, J., Pirozzolo, F.J., Rudel, R.G. & Tallal, P. (1985). The effects of piracetam in children with dyslexia.Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 5, 272–278.Google Scholar
  13. Dimond, S.J. & Beaumont, J.G. (1973). Hemisphere function and paired associate learning.British Journal of Psychology, 65, 275–278.Google Scholar
  14. Dimond, S.J. & Brouwers, E.Y.M. (1976). Increase in the power of human memory in normal man through the use of drugs.Psychopharmacology, 49, 307–309.Google Scholar
  15. Finucci, J.M. (1986). Follow-up studies of developmental dyslexia and other learning disabilities. In S.D. Smith (Ed.)Genetic and Learning Disabilities. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  16. Galaburda, A.M. (1985). Developmental dyslexia: A review of biological interactions.Annals of Dyslexia, 35, 21–33.Google Scholar
  17. Galaburda, A.M. & Kemper, T.L. (1979). Cytoarchitectonic abnormalities in developmental dyslexia: A case study.Annals of Neurology, 6, 94–100.Google Scholar
  18. Gilmore, V.J. & Gilmore, C.E. (1968).Gilmore Oral Reading Test. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  19. Gittelman, R. (1983). Treatment of reading disorders. In M. Rutter (Ed.)Developmental Neuropsychiatry. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gittelman, R., Klein, D. & Feingold, I. (1983). Children with reading disorders: II. Effects of methyl-phenidate in combination with reading remediation.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24, 193–212.Google Scholar
  21. Gittelman-Klein, R. & Klein, D.F. (1976). Methyl-phenidate effects in learning disabilities. Psychometric changes.Archives of General Psychiatry, 33, 655–664.Google Scholar
  22. Giurgea, C. & Salama, M. (1977). Nootropic drugs.Progressive Neuropsychophamtacology, 1, 235–247.Google Scholar
  23. Gray, W. S. (1963).Gray Oral Reading Test. Austin, TX: ProEd.Google Scholar
  24. Helfgott, E., Rudel, R.G. & Kairam, R. (1986). The effects of piracetam on short and long term verbal retrieval in dyslexic boys.International Journal of Psychophysiology, 4, 53–61.Google Scholar
  25. Helfgott, E., Rudel, R.G., Koplewicz, H. & Krieger, J. (1987). The effect of piracetam on reading test performance of dyslexic children. In D. Bakker, H. de Bruyne, N. Bertin & C. Wilsher (Eds.)Child Health and Development, Vol. 5: Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. Basel: Karger.Google Scholar
  26. Helfgott, E., Rudel, R.G. & Krieger, J. (1984). Effect of piracetam on the single word and prose reading of dyslexic children.Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 20, 688–690.Google Scholar
  27. Hyde, J.R.G. (1980).The Effect of an Acute Dose of Piracetam on Human Performance. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of London School of Pharmacy.Google Scholar
  28. Jastak, J. & Wilkinson, S. (1984).Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised. Wilmington: Jastak Associates.Google Scholar
  29. Kunneke, P.S. & Malan, G.M. (1979). A controlled clinical trial on the effects of piracetam in epileptic children.British Journal of Clinical Practice, 33, 266–271.Google Scholar
  30. Lagergren, K. & Levander, S. (1974). A double-blind study on the effects of piracetam upon perceptual and psychomotor performance at varied heart rates in patients treated with artificial pacemakers.Psychopharmacologia, 39, 97–104.Google Scholar
  31. Levi, G. & Sechi, E. (1987). A study of piracetam in the pharmacological treatment of learning disabilities. In D. Bakker, H. de Bruyne, N. Bertin & C. Wilsher (Eds.)Child Health and Development, Vol. 5: Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. Basel: Karger.Google Scholar
  32. Lou, H.C., Henriksen, L. & Bruhn, P. (1984). Focal cerebral hypoperfusion in children with dysphasia and/or attention deficit disorder.Archives of Neurology, 41, 825–829.Google Scholar
  33. Lou, H.C., Henriksen, L., Bruhn, P., Borner, H. & Nielsen, J.B. (1989). Striatal dysfunction in attention deficit and hyperkinetic disorder.Archives of Neurology, 46, 48–52.Google Scholar
  34. Mindus, P., Cronholm, B., Levander, S.E. & Schalling, D. (1976). Piracetam-induced improvement of mental performance: A controlled study on normally aging individuals.Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 54, 150–160.Google Scholar
  35. Nicholson, C.D. (1990). Pharmacology of nootropics and metabolically active compounds in relation to their use in dementia.Psychopharmacology, 101, 147–159.Google Scholar
  36. Pennington, B.F. (1990). Annotation. The genetics of dyslexia.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31, 193–201.Google Scholar
  37. Rudel, R.G. & Helfgott, E. (1984). Effect of piracetam on verbal memory of dyslexic boys.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 23, 695–699.Google Scholar
  38. Rutter, M. & Yule, W. (1975). The concept of specific reading retardation.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 16, 181–197.Google Scholar
  39. Simeon, J., Waters, B. & Resnick, M. (1980). Effects of piracetam in children with learning disorders.Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 16, 65–66.Google Scholar
  40. Simeon, J.G., Volavka, J., Trites, R., Waters, B., Webster, I., Ferguson, H.B. & Simeon, S. (1983). Electroencephalographic correlates in children with learning disorders treated with piracetam.Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 19, 716–720.Google Scholar
  41. Spreen, O. (1982). Adult outcomes of reading disorders. In R. N. Malatesha & P.G. Aaron (Eds.)Reading Disorders: Varieties and Treatments. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  42. Tallal, P., Chase, C., Schmitt, L. & Russell, G. (1984). Piracetam effects with dyslexia: results from the San Diego study. In C. K. Conners (Chair)Effects of Nootropics on Dyslexia. Symposium presented at the 13th Annual Internatinal Neuropsychological Society Meeting, San Diego, California, U.S.A., 6–9 February 1985 and abstract published inThe INS Bulletin, November 1984.Google Scholar
  43. Tallal, P., Chase, C., Russell, G. & Schmitt, R.L (1986). Evaluation of the efficacy of piracetam in treating information processing, reading and writing disorders in dyslexic children.International Journal of Psychopharmacology, 4, 41–52.Google Scholar
  44. Van Hout, A. & Giurgea, D. (1990). The effects of piracetam in dyslexia,Approche Neuropsychologique des Apprentissages chez l'Enfant, 3, 145–152.Google Scholar
  45. Volavka, J., Simeon, J., Simeon, S., Cho, D. & Reker, D. (1981). Effect of piracetam on EEG spectra of boys with learning disorders.Psychopharmacology, 72, 185–188.Google Scholar
  46. Wedl, W. & Suchenwirth, R.M.A. (1977). Effects of the GANA derivative piracetam double-blind study in healthy probands.Nervenarzt, 48, 58–60.Google Scholar
  47. Wilsher, C.R. (1978).Increasing verbal learning in dyslexic and control subjects using piracetam (UCB6215). Applied Psychology Report 87, University of Aston, England.Google Scholar
  48. Wilsher, C.R. (1986). Effects of nootropics on developmental dyslexia.International Journal of Psychophysiology, 4, 29–39.Google Scholar
  49. Wilsher, C.R., Atkins, G. & Mansfield, P. (1979). Piracetam as an aid to learning in dyslexia: Preliminary report.Psychopharmacology, 65, 107–109.Google Scholar
  50. Wilsher, C.R., Atkins, G. & Mansfield, P. (1985). Effect of piracetam on dyslexic's reading ability.Journal of Learning Disabilities, 18, 19–25.Google Scholar
  51. Wilsher, C.R., Bennett, D., Chase, C.H., Conners, C.K., Dilanni, M., Feagans, L., Hanvik, L.J., Helfgott, E., Koplewicz, H., Overby, P., Reader, M.J., Rudel, R.G. & Tallal, P. (1987). Piracetam and dyslexia: effects on reading tests.Journal of Clinical Psychophamacology, 7, 4.Google Scholar
  52. Wilsher, C.R. & Milewski, J. (1983). Effects of piracetam on dyslexies' verbal conceptualizing ability.Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 19, 3–4.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Hogrefe & Huber Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin R. Wilsher
    • 1
    • 2
  • Eric A. Taylor
    • 3
  1. 1.College Visiting Fellow, Department of PsychologyUniversity College of North WalesUK
  2. 2.UCB Pharma Ltd.WatfordUK
  3. 3.Institute of PsychiatryDenmark HillUK

Personalised recommendations