Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 302–309 | Cite as

Cognitive Dysfunction in Major Depressive Disorder: Cause and Effect

  • Matthew J. Knight
  • Natalie Aboustate
  • Bernhard T. BauneEmail author
Mood and Anxiety Disorders (C Harmer, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Mood and Anxiety Disorders


Purpose of Review

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a pervasive and debilitating mental illness, associated with significant emotional, social, and functional deficits. Growing evidence suggests that cognitive dysfunction is a core feature of MDD and may negatively interact with other clinical features of the illness (e.g., psychosocial dysfunction, illness onset). We review recent advances in our understanding of cognitive dysfunction in MDD and highlight the putative causes and effects of cognitive deficits in depressed patients.

Recent Findings

Recent findings in this domain point to a multifaceted pathology of cognitive deficits in MDD, with behavioural disengagement and chronic low-grade inflammation likely playing an antecedent role. Emerging evidence suggests an independent role for cognitive deficits in the development of psychosocial dysfunction, particularly in domains of occupational function, interpersonal relationships, and quality of life.


While the pathology of cognitive deficits in MDD is complex and multifaceted, recent advances provide clarity in select areas. Executive functioning stands out as a cognitive domain crucial to adaptive psychosocial status, highlighting the importance of remediating executive deficits with cognitive treatment. Low-grade inflammation may indicate a predisposition to severe, treatment-resistant depression and associated cognitive deficits. Screening for specific cognitive deficits and inflammatory markers in depressed patients may therefore prove crucial in the advancement of our detection and treatment of major depression.


Major depression MDD Cognitive dysfunction Inflammation Executive function Psychosocial functioning 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

BB received speaker/consultation fees from AstraZeneca, Lundbeck, Pfizer, Takeda, Servier, Bristol Myers Squibb, Otsuka, and Janssen-Cilag. The remaining authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All reported studies/experiments with human or animal subjects performed by the authors have been previously published and complied with all applicable ethical standards (including the Helsinki Declaration and its amendments, institutional/national research committee standards, and international/national/institutional guidelines).


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew J. Knight
    • 1
  • Natalie Aboustate
    • 1
  • Bernhard T. Baune
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Discipline of Psychiatry, Adelaide Medical SchoolUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, Melbourne Medical SchoolThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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