The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between age-associated changes in central serotonergic function and abnormalities associated with major depression. Under randomized double-blind conditions, prolactin and cortisol responses to the serotonin-releasing agent d,l-fenfluramine hydrochloride (60 mg orally) and placebo were examined in 30 normal subjects (15 men, 15 women; age range 21–84 years) and 39 patients with major depressive disorder, endogenous subtype (14 men, 25 women; age range 29–72 years). In the normal subjects, a significant Age x Challenge x Time interaction was observed in the prolactin response (p = .03). This was primarily due to the elevated prolactin responses of the younger healthy women. Peak minus baseline (delta) prolactin responses were negatively correlated with age (women, p = .004; men, p = .06). In the depressed patients there was no age-related decline in prolactin response to fenfluramine. When depressed and healthy younger subjects were compared, delta prolactin responses to fenfluramine were significantly blunted in young patients with depression (p = .003) irrespective of the significant effect of gender (p = .01), but not in older depressed patients. Cortisol responses to fenfluramine did not reveal consistent effects of age, gender, or diagnosis. Age-related decline in central serotonergic function may make older individuals more vulnerable to depression and possibly render depressive episodes more frequent, more severe, and less amenable to treatment.
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