Pathomechanisms of Vascular Depression in Older Adults

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Dec 28;23(1):308. doi: 10.3390/ijms23010308.


Depression in older individuals is a common complex mood disorder with high comorbidity of both psychiatric and physical diseases, associated with high disability, cognitive decline, and increased mortality The factors predicting the risk of late-life depression (LLD) are incompletely understood. The reciprocal relationship of depressive disorder and age- and disease-related processes has generated pathogenic hypotheses and provided various treatment options. The heterogeneity of depression complicates research into the underlying pathogenic cascade, and factors involved in LLD considerably differ from those involved in early life depression. Evidence suggests that a variety of vascular mechanisms, in particular cerebral small vessel disease, generalized microvascular, and endothelial dysfunction, as well as metabolic risk factors, including diabetes, and inflammation that may induce subcortical white and gray matter lesions by compromising fronto-limbic and other important neuronal networks, may contribute to the development of LLD. The "vascular depression" hypothesis postulates that cerebrovascular disease or vascular risk factors can predispose, precipitate, and perpetuate geriatric depression syndromes, based on their comorbidity with cerebrovascular lesions and the frequent development of depression after stroke. Vascular burden is associated with cognitive deficits and a specific form of LLD, vascular depression, which is marked by decreased white matter integrity, executive dysfunction, functional disability, and poorer response to antidepressive therapy than major depressive disorder without vascular risk factors. Other pathogenic factors of LLD, such as neurodegeneration or neuroimmune regulatory dysmechanisms, are briefly discussed. Treatment planning should consider a modest response of LLD to antidepressants, while vascular and metabolic factors may provide promising targets for its successful prevention and treatment. However, their effectiveness needs further investigation, and intervention studies are needed to assess which interventions are appropriate and effective in clinical practice.

Keywords: cerebral small vessel disease; late-life depression; management problems; metabolic factors; microvascular dysfunction; vascular depression; white matter lesions.

Publication types

  • Review