J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 70:83-87 doi:10.1136/jnnp.70.1.83
  • Paper

A neuropathological study of vascular factors in late-life depression

  1. A J Thomasa,
  2. I N Ferriera,
  3. R N Kalariab,
  4. R H Perryb,
  5. A Brownc,
  6. J T O'Brienb
  1. aDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, bInstitute for the Health of the Elderly, cDepartment of Neuropathology, Newcastle General Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Dr A J Thomas, Wolfson Research Centre, Institute for the Health of the Elderly, Newcastle General Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 6BE, UKa.j.thomas{at}
  • Received 17 December 1999
  • Revised 17 July 2000
  • Accepted 7 August 2000


OBJECTIVES Depression is a common psychiatric disorder in late life and it may be associated with vascular disease processes. Although there are clinical and neuroimaging studies lending support to such a “vascular depression” hypothesis there have been no neuropathological studies to directly test this. Postmortem tissue was investigated to determine whether late life depression was associated with atheromatous change in large and medium vessels and microvascular disease in the brain.

METHODS Postmortem tissue wae obtained from 20 patients with a history of at least one episode of DSM-IV major depression and 20 control subjects. Standard procedures were carried out to analyze and quantify Alzheimer type pathology (plaques, tangles, Braak staging) and cortical Lewy bodies. Coronary arteries, cerebral vessels, and aorta were rated for atheromatous disease on a 0–3 scale and the four neocortical areas were rated for microvascular disease.

RESULTS The two groups showed no significant differences in age, sex, or postmortem delay. There was a significant increase in atheromatous disease in the depressed group (p=0.023). No differences were found for microvascular disease, either in the brain generally or locally in the frontal lobes. No subject had any significant Alzheimer type or Lewy body pathology.

CONCLUSIONS Neuropathological evidence was found for an excess of atheromatous disease, related to the aortic and cerebral vessels, in late life depression. However, there was no evidence of an increase in microvascular disease. The findings broadly support the vascular depression hypothesis.


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