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Brain white matter changes (WMC) and depressive symptoms are linked, but the directionality of this association remains unclear.
To investigate the relationship between baseline and incident depression and progression of white matter changes.
In a longitudinal multicentre pan-European study (Leukoaraiosis and Disability in the elderly, LADIS), participants aged over 64 underwent baseline magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and clinical assessments. Repeat scans were obtained at 3 years. Depressive outcomes were assessed in terms of depressive episodes and the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). Progression of WMC was measured using the modified Rotterdam Progression scale.
Progression of WMC was significantly associated with incident depression during year 3 of the study (P = 0.002) and remained significant after controlling for transition to disability, baseline WMC and baseline history of depression. There was no significant association between progression of WMC and GDS score, and no significant relationship between progression of WMC and history of depression at baseline.
Our results support the vascular depression hypothesis and implicate WMC as causal in the pathogenesis of late-life depression.
Evidence from cross-sectional studies suggests a link between cerebral age-related white matter changes and depressive symptoms in older people, although the temporal association remains unclear.
To investigate age-related white matter changes on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as an independent predictor of depressive symptoms at 1 year after controlling for known confounders.
In a pan-European multicentre study of 639 older adults without significant disability, MRI white matter changes and demographic and clinical variables, including cognitive scores, quality of life, disability and depressive symptoms, were assessed at baseline. Clinical assessments were repeated at 1 year.
Using logistic regression analysis, severity of white matter changes was shown to independently and significantly predict depressive symptoms at 1 year after controlling for baseline depressive symptoms, quality of life and worsening disability (P<0.01).
White matter changes pre-date and are associated with the development of depressive symptoms. This has implications for treatment and prevention of depression in later life.
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