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Neuropsychological Function in Nonpsychotic Unipolar Major Depression

Landrø, Nils Inge P.D.*; Stiles, Tore C. Ph.D.; Sletvold, Helge P.D.

Original Articles

Objective To examine neuropsychological deficits in unmedicated patients with a nonpsychotic unipolar major depressive disorder.

Background Although cognitive deficits in depression have been reported in several studies, most previous studies have concentrated on a few areas of cognition in more or less heterogenous groups of depressives.

Method Twenty-two nonhospitalized patients with a DSM-III-R defined nonpsychotic unipolar major depressive disorder were compared with 30 healthy controls. Neuropsychological tests were organized in the following functions: motor function, selective attention, mental flexibility, visuomotor tracking, working memory, short-term memory, verbal long-term memory, nonverbal long-term memory, verbal fluency, and visuospatial function.

Results There emerged an overall group difference in neuropsychological test performance, with patients scoring significantly lower than controls. Bonferroni corrected univariate analyses of variance showed that patients performed significantly below controls in the following areas: selective attention, working memory, verbal long-term memory, and verbal fluency. Two functions were areas of differential deficits in the depressed group: selective attention and working memory. Impaired verbal long-term memory seemed to reflect an underlying working memory deficit.

Conclusions Nonhospitalized patients with a nonpsychotic unipolar major depressive disorder exhibited an overall neuropsychological deficit and they performed disproportionately worse in the two domains of selective attention and working memory. The neurobiological implications of the present results are in accordance with the hypothesis that there is a global-diffuse impairment of brain function with particular involvement of the frontal lobes in nonpsychotic unipolar major depressive disorder.

*Department of Psychology, University of Oslo and †Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, University of Trondheim.

Received February 6, 2001;

revised May 23, 2001; second revision August 8, 2001; accepted August 9, 2001.

This study was supported by the Norwegian Research Board for Science and Humanities (Project Number 100353/320).

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Assoc. Prof. Nils Inge Landrø, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Box 1094, Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.