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Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 1999 Sep;1(2):68-80.

Vascular depression: a new view of late-onset depression.

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Weill Medical College of Cornell University, White Plains, NY, USA. Professor of Psychiatry, Director Cornell Institute of Geriatric Psychiatry.


We have suggested that cerebrovascular disease may predispose, precipitate, or perpetuate some late-life depressive syndromes. The mechanisms of "vascular depression" include disruption of cortico-striato-pallido-thalamo-cortical (CSPTC) pathways or their modulating systems. This view is supported by the presentation of vascular depression, which consists of depressive symptoms, cognitive abnormalities, as well as neuroimaging findings that may result from CSPTC impairment. Moreover, clinical and electrophysiological evidence of CSPTC impairment, an abnormality frequently found in patients with vascular depression, appears to be associated with poor response to antidepressant treatment and early relapse and recurrence. The vascular depression hypothesis provides the conceptual background for studies that may have clinical and theoretical impact. Agents influencing dopamine, acetylcholine, and opioid neurotransmitters may be studied in vascular depression, since these are essential neurotransmitters of the frontostriatal circuitry. Drugs used for prevention and treatment of cerebrovascular disease may be shown to reduce the risk for vascular depression or improve its outcomes. The choice of antidepressants in vascular depression may depend on their effect on neurological recovery from ischemic lesions. Finally, identification of specific relationships between specific symptoms, cognitive deficits, and disability may lead to interventions that target the patients' deficits as well as their interactions with psychosocial factors known to contribute to depression. Research can clarify the pathways to vascular depression by focusing on the site of lesion, the resultant brain dysfunction, the presentation of depression and time of onset, and the contribution of nonbiological factors.


disability; recovery from ischemia; treatment resistance; vascular depression


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