The cognitive effects of recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2) therapy: A controlled clinical trial using computerised assessments

L. G. Walker*, K. P. Wesnes, S. D. Heys, M. B. Walker, J. Lolley, O. Eremin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that patients undergoing treatment with recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2) may develop cognitive impairment. To evaluate these effects, 17 patients with advanced colorectal cancer took part in a randomised, parallel group study of rIL-2 with chemotherapy (5-fluorouracil and leucovorin) and chemotherapy alone. Assessments were carried out daily whilst patients were in hospital and regularly between cycles of treatment using state-of-the-art computerised cognitive assessment, as well, as traditional psychometric tests. Rigorous discontinuation criteria were applied to ensure that the effect of time-related variables did not influence the results. One patient developed repeated transient psychotic episodes associated with rIL-2 infusions and another regularly became confused. Computerised cognitive assessments revealed that immunochemotherapy produced significant impairment in various tasks, especially reaction time, picture recognition and vigilance. These effects were not due to sleep deprivation or pyrexia. For most patients, cognitive functioning was restored to the baseline level within 10 days following the cessation of rIL-2. In conclusion, during infusions of rIL-2, some patients experience severe confusion and amnesia which resembles some of the major cognitive impairments associated with dementias such as Alzheimer's disease. Computerised cognitive assessment using the Cognitive Drug Research system provides a feasible, sensitive and reliable method of evaluating cognitive changes in patients with cancer. It could usefully be included in quality of life assessments in clinical trials where treatment-related cognitive changes need to be evaluated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2275-2283
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer Part A
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1996


  • Biological response modifier
  • Cognition
  • Interleukin-2 therapy
  • Mood
  • Psychoneuroimmunology
  • Psychosocial oncology


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