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Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011;13(1):25-39.

Of sound mind and body: depression, disease, and accelerated aging.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with a high rate of developing serious medical comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome. These are conditions that typically occur late in life, and it has been suggested that MDD may be associated with "accelerated aging." We review several moderators and mediators that may accompany MDD and that may give rise to these comorbid medical conditions. We first review the moderating effects of psychological styles of coping, genetic predisposition, and epigenetic modifications (eg, secondary to childhood adversity). We then focus on several interlinked mediators occurring in MDD (or at least in subtypes of MDD) that may contribute to the medical comorbidity burden and to accelerated aging: limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis alterations, diminution in glucocorticoid receptor function, altered glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, excitotoxicity, increases in intracellular calcium, oxidative stress, a proinflammatory milieu, lowered levels of "counter-regulatory" neurosteroids (such as allopregnanolone and dehydroepiandrosterone), diminished neurotrophic activity, and accelerated cell aging, manifest as alterations in telomerase activity and as shortening of telomeres, which can lead to apoptosis and cell death. In this model, MDD is characterized by a surfeit of potentially destructive mediators and an insufficiency of protective or restorative ones. These factors interact in increasing the likelihood of physical disease and of accelerated aging at the cellular level. We conclude with suggestions for novel mechanism-based therapeutics based on these mediators.

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