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J Psychiatr Res. 2008 Jul;42(9):769-77. Epub 2007 Sep 19.

Circadian affective, cardiopulmonary, and cortisol variability in depressed and nondepressed individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.


Depression is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) perhaps mediated by hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis or vagal dysregulation. We investigated circadian mood variation and HPA-axis and autonomic function in older (55 years) depressed and nondepressed volunteers at risk for CVD by assessing diurnal positive and negative affect (PA, NA), cortisol, and cardiopulmonary variables in 46 moderately depressed and 19 nondepressed volunteers with elevated CVD risk. Participants sat quietly for 5-min periods (10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 17:00, 19:00, and 21:00), and then completed an electronic diary assessing PA and NA. Traditional and respiration-controlled heart rate variability (HRV) variables were computed for these periods as an index of vagal activity. Salivary cortisols were collected at waking, waking+30min, 12:00, 17:00, and 21:00h. Cortisol peaked in the early morning after waking, and gradually declined over the day, but did not differ between groups. PA was lower and NA was higher in the depressed group throughout the day. HRV did not differ between groups. Negative emotions were inversely related to respiratory sinus arrhythmia in nondepressed participants. We conclude that moderately depressed patients do not show abnormal HPA-axis function. Diurnal PA and NA distinguish depressed from nondepressed individuals at risk for CVD, while measures of vagal regulation, even when controlled for physical activity and respiratory confounds, do not. Diurnal mood variations of older individuals at risk for CVD differ from those reported for other groups and daily fluctuations in NA are not related to cardiac autonomic control in depressed individuals.

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