The etiology of depression in the elderly is poorly understood. In this study, magnetic resonance imaging was used to evaluate the role of subcortical structures in the pathophysiology of depression in the elderly. Elderly depressed patients were found to have smaller caudate nuclei, smaller putaminal complexes and in increased frequency of subcortical hyperintensities compared with normal, healthy controls. These findings were more pronounced in patients with late-onset depression. Based on these findings, the authors discuss the role of the basal ganglia in the pathophysiology of depression in the elderly.