BACKGROUND: There is a growing literature on the importance of hippocampal volume in geriatric depression. METHODS: We examined hippocampal volume in a group of elderly depressed patients and a group of elderly control subjects (N = 66 geriatric depressed patients and 18 elderly nondepressed control subjects) recruited through Duke's Mental Health Clinical Research Center for the Study of Depression in the Elderly. The subjects received a standardized evaluation, including a magnetic resonance imaging scan of the brain. Patients had unipolar major depression and were free of comorbid major psychiatric illness and neurologic illness. Differences were assessed using t tests and linear regression modeling. RESULTS: Accounting for the effects of age, gender, and total brain volume, depressed patients tended to have smaller right hippocampal volume (p =.014) and left hippocampal volume (p =.073). Among depressed patients, age of onset was negatively but not significantly related to right hippocampal volume (p =.052) and to left hippocampal volume (p =.062). We noted that among subjects with either right or left hippocampal volume of 3 mL or less, the vast majority were patients rather than control subjects. CONCLUSIONS: These results support a role for hippocampal dysfunction in depression, particularly in late-age onset depression. Longitudinal studies examining both depressive and cognitive outcomes are needed to clarify the relationships between the hippocampus, depression, and dementia.
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