The vascular depression hypothesis postulates that cerebral small vessel disease can cause or exacerbate depression in elderly persons. Numerous studies explored the association of imaging markers of cerebral small vessel disease including white matter lesions (WMLs) and lacunar infarcts with depressive symptoms or disorders. However, cerebral microbleeds have not been tested in depression. In the current study, we aimed to explore the association of WMLs, lacunar infarcts and cerebral microbleeds with depression continuum in a large population-based sample, the Rotterdam Study. Study population consisted of 3799 participants (aged 45 or over) free of dementia. WML volumes, lacunar infarcts and cerebral microbleeds were measured with brain magnetic resonance imaging. Depressive symptoms, depressive disorders and co-morbid anxiety disorders were assessed with validated questionnaires and clinical interview. WML volumes and lacunar infarcts were associated with depressive symptoms and disorders. Cerebral microbleeds, especially in deep or infratentorial brain regions, were related to depressive disorders only. Our results indicate that WMLs and lacunar infarcts might be non-specific vascular lesions seen in depressive symptoms and disorders. Association of cerebral microbleeds with more severe forms of depression may indicate impaired brain iron homeostasis or minor episodes of cerebrovascular extraversion, which may play a role in depression etiology.

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Psychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Department of Epidemiology

Direk, N., Saavedra Perez, H., Akoudad, S., Verhaaren, B., Niessen, W., Hofman, A., … Tiemeier, H. (2016). Markers of cerebral small vessel disease and severity of depression in the general population. Psychiatry Research - Neuroimaging, 253, 1–6. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2016.05.002