A role of the caudate nucleus in depression has been suggested from relevant clinical conditions, such as patients with Huntington's disease or caudate infarcts, as well as animal studies. Correlations of caudate nucleus disease with depressive symptoms have been limited to autopsy studies and cases of gross pathological disorder, such as large infarcts. We used serial axial high-field magnetic resonance images and an unbiased stereological technique to estimate the volumes of the caudate nuclei in 50 patients who met DSM-III criteria for major depression (23 men, 48.3 +/- 17 years old) in comparison with 50 age- and gender-matched normal controls free of major neurological and psychiatric disorders. Depressed patients had smaller caudate nucleus volumes (5.2 +/- 1.6 cm3) compared with controls (6.2 +/- 1.7 cm3). Right and left caudate nucleus volumes were smaller in depressed patients compared with controls. Age was negatively correlated with caudate nucleus volumes in depressed patients as well as in controls. Caudate nucleus volumes in depressed patients were inversely correlated with the bicaudate and bifrontal indices. These results may be the first demonstration of diminished caudate nucleus volumes in depression and suggest a role for the caudate nucleus in the pathogenesis of major depression.