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Effect of the NMDA receptor partial agonist, d-cycloserine, on emotional processing and autobiographical memory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 May 2020

Runsen Chen
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, OX3 7JX, UK Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Liliana P. Capitão
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, OX3 7JX, UK Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Philip J. Cowen
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, OX3 7JX, UK Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Catherine J. Harmer*
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, OX3 7JX, UK Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Warneford Hospital, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Author for correspondence: Catherine J. Harmer, E-mail:



Studies suggest that d-cycloserine (DCS) may have antidepressant potential through its interaction with the glycine site of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor; however, clinical evidence of DCS's efficacy as a treatment for depression is limited. Other evidence suggests that DCS affects emotional learning which may also be relevant for the treatment of depression and anxiety. The aim of the present investigation was to assess the effect of DCS on emotional processing in healthy volunteers and to further characterise its effects on emotional and autobiographical memory.


Forty healthy volunteers were randomly allocated to a single dose of 250 mg DCS or placebo in a double-blind design. Three hours later, participants performed an Emotional Test Battery [including Facial Expression Recognition Task (FERT), Emotional Categorisation Task (ECAT), Emotional Recall Task (EREC), Facial Dot-Probe Task (FDOT) and Emotional Recognition Memory Task (EMEM)] and an Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT). Also, participants performed the FERT, EREC and AMT tasks again after 24 h in order to assess longer lasting effects of a single dose of DCS.


DCS did not significantly affect the FERT, EMEM and FDOT performance but significantly increased emotional memory and classification for positive words v. negative words. Also, DCS enhanced the retrieval of more specific autobiographical memories, and this effect persisted at 24 h.


These findings support the suggestion that low-dose DCS increases specific autobiographical memory retrieval and positive emotional memory. Such effects make it an intriguing agent for further investigation in clinical depression, which is characterised by decreased autobiographical memory specificity and increased negative bias in memory recall. It also underscores the potential role of DCS as an adjunct to cognitive behavioural therapy in depression.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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