Electroconvulsive therapy-induced persistent retrograde amnesia: Could it be minimised by ketamine or other pharmacological approaches?

Emily M. Gregory-Roberts, Sharon L. Naismith, Karen M. Cullen, Ian B. Hickie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Certain pharmacological agents administered during electroconvulsive therapy may have the potential to prevent persistent retrograde amnesia induced during electroconvulsive therapy. This review examines mechanisms for electroconvulsive therapy-induced retrograde amnesia, and evaluates the suitability of the anaesthetic ketamine for preventing this amnestic outcome. Methods: A review of human studies, animal models and theoretical models in light of memory dysfunction following electroconvulsive therapy was conducted. MEDLINE was searched from 1950 to April 2009 using the MeSH terms "electroconvulsive therapy", "memory", "memory short term", "memory disorders", "excitatory amino acid antagonists", and "ketamine". PREMEDLINE was searched using the terms "electroconvulsive therapy", "amnesia" and "ketamine". Additional keyword and reference list searches were performed. No language, date constraints or article type constraints were used. Results: Disruption of long term potentiation as a mechanism for electroconvulsive therapy-induced retrograde amnesia is well supported. Based on this putative mechanism, an N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist would appear suitable for preventing the retrograde amnesia. Available evidence in animals and humans supports the prediction that ketamine, an anaesthetic agent and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist, could effectively prevent electroconvulsive therapy-induced persistent retrograde amnesia. Whilst there are concerns about the use of ketamine with electroconvulsive therapy, such as possible psychotomimetic effects, on balance this anaesthetic agent may improve or hasten clinical response to electroconvulsive therapy. Conclusions: A clinical trial is warranted to determine if ketamine anaesthesia during electroconvulsive therapy can lessen persistent retrograde amnesia and improve therapeutic response. Electroconvulsive therapy with ketamine anaesthesia may provide effective antidepressant action with minimal side effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-45
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Amnesia, retrograde
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Excitatory amino acid antagonists
  • Ketamine
  • Receptors, N-methyl-D-aspartate


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