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Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 2005 Aug;31(4):405-13.

Depression in the elderly: pathological study of raphe and locus ceruleus.

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Department of Clinical Neurology, University of Oxford, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, UK.


Depressive symptoms in the elderly are common and disabling and constitute a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's disease (AD). One hypothesis worth exploring is that depression in the elderly is related to development of AD pathology at subcortical sites before such pathology develops in the hippocampus and neocortex. We describe here an autopsy study of the locus ceruleus (LC) and raphe nuclei (RN) in nine subjects with depression and 18 age and sex matched controls that were included in a community-based study of cognitive function and ageing (MRC-CFAS). We found no relationship between depression and (1) mean counts of serotonergic or total RN neuronal profiles (2) noradrenergic or total LC neuronal profiles (3) counts of neurofibrillary tangles in these nuclei, or (4) size of neurones in the RN. Nor were these parameters related to age or sex of the subjects. We conclude that depression in the elderly is unlikely to be related to RN or LC neurone counts or RN cell size or to AD-type pathology in these nuclei. However, because of the small numbers of cases studied and our inability to carry out a full stereological study because of tissue limitations the findings are preliminary.

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