Vascular function in older adults with depressive disorder

Biol Psychiatry. 2010 Jul 15;68(2):133-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.04.017.


Background: Cerebrovascular disease plays an important role in depressive disorder, especially in older adults. An understanding of vascular function in depression is important etiologically and to develop innovative treatments that may improve prognosis by ameliorating vascular damage.

Methods: This study assessed endothelial function, arterial stiffness, and atherosclerosis in a variety of vessel beds in 25 elderly subjects with depressive disorder compared with 21 nondepressed control subjects. Subjects underwent pulse wave velocity, pulse wave analysis, carotid intima media thickness analysis, and magnetic resonance imaging. A subset (16 patients and 15 control subjects) had assessment of biopsied small artery dilatation to acetylcholine to further assess endothelial function.

Results: The mean sample age was 72.4 years with an average age at onset for depression of 60 years. Mean carotid intima media thickness was significantly higher in depressed subjects (p < .01). Pulse wave velocity was 1.6 m/sec higher in depressed subjects (borderline significance). There was a significant reduction in the dilatation response to acetylcholine in preconstricted small arteries (p = .01). On magnetic resonance imaging, depressed subjects had significantly more dilated Virchow-Robin spaces in the basal ganglia (p = .01). Depressed subjects had greater volume of white matter lesions in all regions, but this did not reach statistical significance. There were no baseline differences in vascular risk.

Conclusions: Depression in the elderly is associated with poorer endothelial function and more atherosclerosis. This is associated with a greater white matter hyperintensities lesion load and basal ganglia microangiopathy. The use of vasoprotective drugs to improve endothelial function or retard atherosclerosis as depression-modifying agents should be explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Carotid Arteries / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Selection
  • Tunica Intima / physiopathology
  • Tunica Media / physiopathology