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Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2001 Dec;16(12):1129-35.

MRI white matter hyperintensities, (1)H-MR spectroscopy and cognitive function in geriatric depression: a comparison of early- and late-onset cases.

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  • 1Department of Neuropsychiatry, Fukui Medical University, Matsuoka, Japan.


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES Geriatric depression is often thought to differ from that at other times of adulthood. Recently, several studies have shown that the incidence of white matter hyperintense lesions identified by brain MRI is higher in patients with geriatric depression than in healthy elderly subjects, but a consensus has not yet been reached on the relationship between the severity of white matter lesions and either cognitive impairment or depressive symptoms.


Forty-seven patients aged 50 to 75 years with major depression were divided into two groups based on age at onset of depression: early-onset (< 50 years) group (20 patients; mean age, 62.7 +/- 6.7) and late-onset (> or =50 years) group (27 patients; mean age, 65.6 +/- 5.4). The severity of hyperintense white matter lesions on MRI was classified by region, then a proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS) focusing on the white matter of the frontal lobes, multidimensional neuropsychological tests and evaluation of depressive symptoms were conducted.


The severity of the deep white matter lesions, the deterioration of cognitive function related to subcortical/frontal brain system and clinician-rated depressive symptoms were all more pronounced in the late-onset group compared with those in the early-onset group. It was further observed that the more severe the deep white matter lesions, the lower the levels of N-acetylaspartate/creatine. With the age of onset as the covariate, the patients with moderate deep white matter lesions had more pronounced cognitive impairment and clinician-rated depressive symptoms than those with none and/or mild lesions.


These results suggest that subcortical/frontal type cognitive impairment and the persistence of depressive symptoms in geriatric depression is related to moderate deep white matter lesions more often complicated in the late-onset group. The (1)H-MRS findings were suggested to be a useful indicator of neuronal/axonal loss in the white matter of the frontal lobes which precedes cognitive impairment.

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