Visual contrast sensitivity in major depressive disorder

J Psychosom Res. 2013 Jul;75(1):83-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.03.008. Epub 2013 Apr 13.


Objective: Through the eyes of those depressed, the world may appear dull and gray. Visual contrast sensitivity has recently been reported to be lower in depressed patients compared to healthy controls. We aimed to examine the consistency of this finding and to explore the underlying retinal electrophysiology.

Methods: Twenty subjects with major depressive disorder and 20 matched healthy controls were studied. Pattern electroretinogram (PERG) and subjective visual contrast test were used to assess visual contrast sensitivity. Full-field electroretinography (ffERG) was additionally used to assess retinal neurophysiology. Depression was diagnosed based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and depression severity was measured using standard psychometric scales.

Results: Visual contrast sensitivity was significantly lower in depressed patients compared to controls based on the Landolt C visual contrast test, but no difference was found between groups using PERG and ffERG. Greater severity of depressive symptoms correlated (r=0.49, p=0.001) with poorer visual contrast sensitivity.

Conclusions: Depressed subjects had reduced visual contrast discrimination performance, but this finding could not be consistently determined using PERG. The neurobiological link between major depressive disorder and visual contrast sensitivity warrants further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Electroretinography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Visual Fields / physiology