, Volume 230, Issue 4, pp 631–638 | Cite as

Early markers of cognitive enhancement: developing an implicit measure of cognitive performance

  • Abbie PringleEmail author
  • Michael Browning
  • Elizabeth Parsons
  • Phil J. Cowen
  • Catherine J. Harmer
Original Investigation


There is intense interest in the development of effective cognitive enhancing drugs which would have therapeutic application across a number of neurological and psychological disorders including dementia, schizophrenia and depression. However, development in this area has been limited by the absence of sensitive biomarkers which can be used to detect and refine therapeutic-like action in phase 1 clinical studies. The aim of the present study was therefore to develop a measure of cognition relevant to the action of candidate cognitive enhancers which might be sensitive to pharmacological manipulation in healthy volunteers. Healthy volunteers (n = 34) were randomised to receive a single dose of modafinil (100 mg) or placebo. Five hours post dose, attentional flexibility in learning was assessed using a novel implicit learning task. Volunteers also completed an auditory digit span task and visual analogue scales (VAS). Modafinil increased alertness as measured by the VAS. In the implicit learning task, modafinil enhanced learning rates in terms of both accuracy and reaction time, suggesting an increase in implicit rule learning. These results suggest that the novel learning task should be explored as a biomarker of early cognitive improvement which could be more sensitive than conventional measures.


Cognitive enhancement Modafinil Set shifting 


Conflicts of interest

CJH has acted as a consultant for the following companies: Servier, GSK, Astra-Zeneca. Lundbeck and P1vital. She also holds shares in P1vital and is on the advisory board. PJC has been a paid member of advisory boards of Eli Lilly, Lundbeck, Servier and Wyeth and has been a paid lecturer for Eli Lilly, Lundbeck, GlaxoSmithKline and Servier. He has received remuneration for scientific advice given to legal representatives of GlaxoSmithKline. AP, EP and MB report no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abbie Pringle
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Michael Browning
    • 2
  • Elizabeth Parsons
    • 1
  • Phil J. Cowen
    • 1
  • Catherine J. Harmer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.fMRIB CentreUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.Neurosciences Building, University Department of PsychiatryWarneford HospitalOxfordUK

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