Are child-, adolescent-, and adult-onset depression one and the same disorder?

Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Jun 15;49(12):980-1001. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(01)01127-1.


This paper reviews prior research studies examining neurobiological correlates and treatment response of depression in children, adolescents, and adults. Although there are some similarities in research findings observed across the life cycle, both children and adolescents have been found to differ from depressed adults on measures of basal cortisol secretion, corticotropin stimulation post-corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) infusion, response to several serotonergic probes, immunity indices, and efficacy of tricyclic medications. These differences are proposed to be due to 1) developmental factors, 2) stage of illness factors (e.g., number of episodes, total duration of illness), or 3) heterogeneity in clinical outcome (e.g., recurrent unipolar course vs. new-onset bipolar disorder). Relevant clinical and preclinical studies that provide support for these alternate explanations of the discrepant findings are reviewed, and directions for future research are discussed. To determine whether child-, adolescent-, and adult-onset depression represent the same condition, it is recommended that researchers 1) use the same neuroimaging paradigms in child, adolescent, and adult depressed cohorts; 2) carefully characterize subjects' stage of illness; and 3) conduct longitudinal clinical and repeat neurobiological assessments of patients of different ages at various stages of illness. In addition, careful attention to familial subtypes (e.g., depressive spectrum disorders vs. familial pure depressive disorders) and environmental factors (e.g., trauma history) are suggested for future investigations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Child
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / blood
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy
  • Dexamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Immunity, Cellular / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Serotonin / blood
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Serotonin
  • Dexamethasone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone