Serotonin and human cognitive performance

J.A.J. Schmitt*, M. Wingen, J.G. Ramaekers, E.A.T. Evers, W.J. Riedel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In the past decade, experimental studies involving healthy human volunteers have revealed that manipulations of the central serotonin (5-HT) system can produce quite specific changes in cognitive functioning, independent of overt mood changes. Reduced 5-HT turnover is consistently associated with impaired long-term memory functioning. Low 5-HT function may also impair cognitive flexibility and improve focused attention. On the other hand. stimulation of central 5-HT has repeatedly been found to impair performance in a true vigilance task. Currently. there is little evidence for mirrored cognitive changes due to opposite 5-HT manipulations in healthy volunteers. Given the mounting evidence for a role of 5-HT in human cognition, reduced 5-HT function could be directly linked to cognitive disturbances in certain conditions. such as in depression and Alzheimer's Disease (AD). There is evidence that stimulating (i.e. normalizing) 5-HT activity in depression may have specific beneficial effects on cognition, independent of a general relief of depressive symptoms, but this premise needs to be confirmed by larger-scale clinical studies. Recently, a potential role of 5-HT in the cognitive symptoms in AD has been identified, but there is insufficient data to evaluate the effects of 5-HT stimulation on cognitive symptoms in AD. It is concluded that serotonin is a potential target for pharmacological cognition enhancement, particularly for restoration of impaired cognitive performance due to 5-HT dysfunction. Further differentiation of the role of 5-HT in normal and disturbed cognition and evaluation of the effects of 5-HT manipulations in various populations is required to establish the full potential of 5-HT drugs as cognition enhancers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2473-86
JournalCurrent Pharmaceutical Design
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006


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