Cortical and subcortical abnormalities in late-onset depression with history of suicide attempts investigated with MRI and voxel-based morphometry

J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 2010 Sep;23(3):171-84. doi: 10.1177/0891988710363713. Epub 2010 Apr 29.


Late-onset major depression is thought to have a biological (vascular) basis, which could be a result of brain structure change. Vascular lesions can affect both the gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM), while most previous studies addressed WM abnormality. This study explored the disease- and symptom (history of suicide attempt) -related GM morphometry in elderly male patients with late-onset depression. A total of 70 patients with depression admitted to our geriatric psychiatric ward were investigated, and 26 age-matched males were recruited as controls. We used T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to obtain cerebral structural information and adopted voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to investigate brain volume change related to disease (depression vs control) and symptom (depression with history of suicide attempt vs depression without history of suicide attempt). Late-onset depression was associated with smaller volumes in several regions of GM (insula and the posterior cingulate region) and WM (subcallosal cingulate cortex, floor of lateral ventricles, parahippocampal region, insula, and the cerebellum). Compared with nonsuicidal counterpart, suicidal depression was associated with decreased GM and WM volume in the frontal, parietal, and temporal regions, and the insula, lentiform nucleus, midbrain, and the cerebellum. Marked regional volume reduction was noticed at dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. Our results demonstrate that the development of suicidal behaviors in major depression is related to widespread but discrete volume reduction in several cortical and subcortical structures, fitting with the hypothesis that decreased cerebral volume in certain regions renders biological susceptibility to attempt suicide during depressive states.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / pathology*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Suicide, Attempted*