Influences of dopaminergic system dysfunction on late-life depression

Mol Psychiatry. 2022 Jan;27(1):180-191. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01265-0. Epub 2021 Aug 17.


Deficits in cognition, reward processing, and motor function are clinical features relevant to both aging and depression. Individuals with late-life depression often show impairment across these domains, all of which are moderated by the functioning of dopaminergic circuits. As dopaminergic function declines with normal aging and increased inflammatory burden, the role of dopamine may be particularly salient for late-life depression. We review the literature examining the role of dopamine in the pathogenesis of depression, as well as how dopamine function changes with aging and is influenced by inflammation. Applying a Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Initiative perspective, we then review work examining how dopaminergic signaling affects these domains, specifically focusing on Cognitive, Positive Valence, and Sensorimotor Systems. We propose a unified model incorporating the effects of aging and low-grade inflammation on dopaminergic functioning, with a resulting negative effect on cognition, reward processing, and motor function. Interplay between these systems may influence development of a depressive phenotype, with an initial deficit in one domain reinforcing decline in others. This model extends RDoC concepts into late-life depression while also providing opportunities for novel and personalized interventions.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Depression*
  • Dopamine*
  • Reward


  • Dopamine