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Am J Psychiatry. 1999 Oct;156(10):1602-7.

White matter hyperintensities and gray matter lesions in physically healthy depressed subjects.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.



Previous studies reported that depressed subjects had more white matter hyperintensities on magnetic resonance imaging scans than control subjects, but the subjects had cerebrovascular disease risk factors. This study used subjects with a history of recurrent major depression and matched comparison subjects, screened to exclude cerebrovascular disease risk factors, to determine whether depressed subjects had more white matter hyperintensities and other lesions.


A semiautomated volumetric computer program was used to compare numbers and volumes of white matter hyperintensities, basal ganglia lesions, and total lesions in 24 women with a history of recurrent major depression and 24 comparison subjects case-matched on age and education and group-matched on height. In addition, images were measured with the use of a validated categorical scale. All subjects were screened to exclude cerebrovascular disease risk factors.


There were no significant differences in the total volumes or total numbers of lesions. However, multiple linear regression showed a significant correlation of age and depression with number of lesions; this was accounted for by a greater number of small lesions (diameter < or = 0.4 cm).


These findings suggest that cerebrovascular disease risk factors most likely mediated the relationship between depression and white matter hyperintensities seen in previous studies. However, the independent effect of depression, as well as an age-by-depression interaction, for small lesions suggests a causal role of depression in certain types of white matter pathology irrespective of other cerebrovascular disease risk factors. The volumetric method used in this study may be more sensitive than other methods in determining lesion characteristics and correlations with clinical variables.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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