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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2019 May;161:158-168. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2019.04.008. Epub 2019 Apr 17.

Differential effects of unipolar versus bipolar depression on episodic memory updating.

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National Center for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore 560065, India. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, USA.
Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.
National Center for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore 560065, India; Centre for Brain Development and Repair, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Bangalore 560065, India; Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, Deanery of Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Hugh Robson Building, 15 George Square, Edinburgh EH89XD, UK.


Episodic memories, when reactivated, can be modified or updated by new learning. Since such dynamic memory processes remain largely unexplored in psychiatric disorders, we examined the impact of depression on episodic memory updating. Unipolar and bipolar depression patients, and age/education matched controls, first learned a set of objects (List-1). Two days later, participants in all three groups were either reminded of the first learning session or not followed by the learning of a new set of objects (List-2). Forty-eight hours later, List-1 recall was impaired in unipolar and bipolar patients compared to control participants. Further, as expected, control participants who received a reminder spontaneously recalled items from List-2 during recall of List-1, indicative of an updated List-1 memory. Such spontaneous intrusions were also seen in the unipolar and bipolar patients that received the reminder, suggesting that memory updating was unaffected in these two patient groups despite impaired recall of List 1. Unexpectedly, we observed a trend towards higher intrusions, albeit statistically insignificant, not only in the reminder but also in the no-reminder subgroups of bipolar patients. We probed this further in a second cohort by testing recall of List-2, which was also impaired in both depression groups. Again bipolar patients showed intrusions, but this time in the reverse order from List-1 into List-2, independent of a reminder. Taken together, despite impaired recall, updating of episodic memories was intact and unidirectional in unipolar depression. In contrast, indiscriminate updating, as evidenced by bidirectional interference between episodic memories, was seen in bipolar depression. These findings reveal a novel distinction between unipolar versus bipolar depression using a reactivation-dependent memory updating paradigm.


Bipolar depression; Delayed recall; Episodic memory updating; List learning; Memory reactivation; Unipolar depression


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