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Psychosom Med. 2009 Oct;71(8):852-60. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181b8bb7a. Epub 2009 Sep 24.

Autonomy of autonomic dysfunction in major depression.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Jena, 07743 Jena, Germany.



To investigate cardiac autonomic dysfunction in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). Research in this area has faced several limitations because of the heterogeneity of the disease, the influence of medication, and methodological shortcomings.


Participants were 75 patients suffering from an acute recurrent episode of MDD and 75 matched controls. All participants were assessed at baseline for linear and nonlinear parameters of heart rate variability, QT variability and baroreflex sensitivity. Participants with MDD were reassessed after 7 to 9 days of treatment with either a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) or a serotonin and noradrenaline selective reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) antidepressant.


In the initial examination, patients showed an overall shift of autonomic balance toward sympathetic predominance as compared with matched controls, with a decrease in parasympathetic parameters and baroreflex sensitivity, and an increase in sympathetically influenced QT variability. Overall, antidepressant treatment exacerbated this imbalance, with differential effects observed for SSRI and SNRI treatment. In contrast to autonomic dysfunction in other disorders, such as schizophrenia, autonomic dysfunction in MDD appeared to be independent of disease severity.


Patients suffering from MDD show profound autonomic dysfunction, which is exacerbated by SNRI and to a lesser degree by SSRI treatment. This information could prove important when selecting antidepressant medication for patients at risk for cardiac arrhythmias.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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