Background: Patients with schizophrenia have significant cognitive deficits, which may profoundly impair quality of life. These deficits are also evident at the neurophysiological level with patients demonstrating altered event-related potential in several stages of cognitive processing compared to healthy controls; within the auditory domain, for example, there are replicated alterations in Mismatch Negativity, P300 and Auditory Steady State Response. However, there are no approved pharmacological treatments for cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Aims: Here we examine whether the phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor, roflumilast, can improve neurophysiological deficits in schizophrenia. Methods: Using a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design study in 18 patients with schizophrenia, the effect of the phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor, roflumilast (100 µg and 250 µg) on auditory steady state response (early stage), mismatch negativity and theta (intermediate stage) and P300 (late stage) was examined using electroencephalogram. A total of 18 subjects were randomised and included in the analysis. Results: Roflumilast 250 µg significantly enhanced the amplitude of both the mismatch negativity (p=0.04) and working memory-related theta oscillations (p=0.02) compared to placebo but not in the other (early- or late-stage) cognitive markers. Conclusions: The results suggest that phosphodiesterase-4 inhibition, with roflumilast, can improve electroencephalogram cognitive markers, which are impaired in schizophrenia, and that phosphodiesterase-4 inhibition acts at an intermediate rather than early or late cognitive processing stage. This study also underlines the use of neurophysiological measures as cognitive biomarkers in experimental medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-22
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • cognition
  • EEG
  • PDE4
  • PDE4 inhibition
  • roflumilast
  • Schizophrenia


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