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Associations of current and remitted major depressive disorder with brain atrophy: the AGES–Reykjavik Study

  • M. I. Geerlings (a1) (a2), S. Sigurdsson (a3), G. Eiriksdottir (a3), M. E. Garcia (a2), T. B. Harris (a2), T. Sigurdsson (a4), V. Gudnason (a3) (a5) and L. J. Launer (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 30 May 2012

To examine whether lifetime DSM-IV diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD), including age at onset and number of episodes, is associated with brain atrophy in older persons without dementia.


Within the population-based Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility (AGES)–Reykjavik Study, 4354 persons (mean age 76 ± 5 years, 58% women) without dementia had a 1.5-T brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Automated brain segmentation total and regional brain volumes were calculated. History of MDD, including age at onset and number of episodes, and MDD in the past 2 weeks was diagnosed according to DSM-IV criteria using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI).


Of the total sample, 4.5% reported a lifetime history of MDD; 1.5% had a current diagnosis of MDD (including 75% with a prior history of depression) and 3.0% had a past but no current diagnosis (remission). After adjusting for multiple covariates, compared to participants never depressed, those with current MDD (irrespective of past) had more global brain atrophy [B = –1.25%, 95% confidence interval (CI) −2.05 to −0.44], including more gray- and white-matter atrophy in most lobes, and also more atrophy of the hippocampus and thalamus. Participants with current, first-onset MDD also had more brain atrophy (B = –1.62%, 95% CI −3.30 to 0.05) whereas those remitted did not (B = 0.06%, 95% CI −0.54 to 0.66).


In older persons without dementia, current MDD, irrespective of prior history, but not remitted MDD was associated with widespread gray- and white-matter brain atrophy. Prospective studies should examine whether MDD is a consequence of, or contributes to, brain volume loss and development of dementia.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr L. J. Launer, Laboratory for Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry, National Institute on Aging, Gateway Building, Room 3C309, 7201 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 208920, USA. (Email: [L. J. Launer]
(Email: [M. I. Geerlings]
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