Psychological Medicine

Original Article

Recollection memory deficits in patients with major depressive disorder predicted by past depressions but not current mood state or treatment status

G. M.  MacQUEEN  c1 a1, T. M.  GALWAY  a1, J.  HAY  a1, L. T.  YOUNG  a1 and R. T.  JOFFE  a1
a1 From the Mood Disorders Program, McMaster University, Hamilton; and Rotmann Research Institute and University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Background. Neuropsychological studies have suggested that memory systems reliant on medial temporal lobe structures are impaired in patients with depression. There is less data regarding whether this impairment is specific to recollection memory systems, and whether clinical features predict impairment. This study sought to address these issues.

Method. A computerized process-dissociation memory task was utilized to dissociate recollection and habit memory in 40 patients with past or current major depression and 40 age, sex and IQ matched non-psychiatric control subjects. The Cognitive Failures Questionnaire was used to assess patients’ perceptions of day-to-day memory failures.

Results. Patients had impaired recollection memory (t = 4·7, P<0·001), but no impairment in habit memory when compared to controls. Recollection memory performance was not predicted by indices of current mood state, but was predicted by self-assessments of impairment (β = −0·33; P = 0·008) and past number of depressions (β = −0·41; P = 0·001). There was no evidence that standard therapy with antidepressant medication either improved or worsened memory performance.

Conclusions. The results confirm that patients with multiple past depressions have reduced function on recollection memory tasks, but not on habit memory performance. The memory deficits were independent of current mood state but related to past course of illness and significant enough that patients detected impairment in day-to-day memory function.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Glenda M. MacQueen, 4N77A, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, McMaster University Medical Center, 1200 Main Street W., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 3Z5.