Anatomic location and laterality of MRI signal hyperintensities in late-life depression

J Psychosom Res. 2002 Aug;53(2):665-76. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3999(02)00425-7.


Objectives: Evidence is mounting linking cerebrovascular disease with the development of major depression in the elderly. Lesions in both white and gray matter have been associated with geriatric depression. In addition, the literature on poststroke depression suggests that left-sided lesions are associated with depression. We sought to examine the severity and location of white- and gray-matter lesions in a group of elderly depressives and nondepressed control subjects.

Method: 115 depressed patients (69 with late onset, 46 with early onset) and 37 controls, all over age 45, received magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Semiquantitative severity ratings and quantitative measurements of number and size of MRI hyperintensities were obtained, and groups were compared using Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel (CMH) analyses and repeated-measures analyses of covariance adjusting for age.

Results: Late-onset depressed patients had more severe hyperintensity ratings in deep white matter than early-onset patients and controls. Late- and early-onset patients had more severe subcortical gray-matter hyperintensities (particularly in the putamen) compared with controls. Left-sided white-matter lesions were significantly associated with older age of depression onset, whereas right-anterior white matter and left-subcortical lesions (particularly in the putamen) were associated with melancholia in the depressed group.

Conclusion: These findings extend previous reports of an association between cerebrovascular disease and depression, as well as recent studies showing lateralized lesion involvement in geriatric depression. Such vascular pathology may disrupt neural pathways involved in affective processing and the maintenance of a normal mood and psychomotor state.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged