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 Alzheimers 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.
Serotonin, memory, cognition, depression, Alzheimer's Disease, cognition enhancement
Nutrition and Health Department,Nestle Research Center, PO Box 44, CH-1000 Lausanne, Switzerland.