Effects of electroconvulsive therapy and magnetic seizure therapy on acute memory retrieval

Julia D. Polster, Sarah Kayser, Bettina H. Bewernick, René Hurlemann, Thomas E. Schlaepfer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is currently the most effective treatment for severe depression. However, it is frequently associated with negative cognitive side effects. Magnetic seizure therapy (MST) depicts an alternative, although experimental, convulsive treatment for major depression. Initial results suggest comparable antidepressant effects accompanied by a better side effect profile. However, no studies up to now have addressed acute retrieval disruption after MST in comparison to ECT. Therefore, we intended to broaden insight into the side effect profile of MST compared to ECT by examining the disruption of acute verbal memory processes after treatment. Methods Twenty depressed patients were randomly assigned to either MST (10 patients) or ECT (10 patients) treatment. On 2 treatment days and 2 treatment-free days, the patients memorized words using a controlled learning paradigm derived from the Batchelder and Riefer storage retrieval model. Four hours after memorization, the patients were asked to retrieve words freely (delayed recall) and a second time with the help of an additional cue constructed out of a hypernymic category (cued recall). By comparing memory performance on treatment days to control days, treatment-induced memory disruption was evaluated. Results After ECT, delayed recall was disturbed, whereas after MST, it was not. However, this difference in performance was no longer apparent upon cue application (cued recall). Conclusions This study demonstrates that ECT-induced acute memory disruption measured by delayed recall is absent after MST, confirming its superior side effect profile. We hope that confirming advantages of MST over ECT will improve therapy options for patients with severe depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-19
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of ECT
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 6 2015


  • cued recall
  • delayed recall
  • electroconvulsive therapy
  • magnetic seizure therapy
  • storage process, retrieval process

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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