BACKGROUND: Late-onset depressive disorder is associated with white matter lesions and neuropsychological deficits that in some studies are linked to a poorer outcome for depression. Some white matter lesions may be vascular in origin. This study investigated the relationship between response or non-response to antidepressant monotherapy and neuropsychological function, structural brain measures and vascular factors.
METHOD: This was a case control study. Fifty patients with late-onset major depressive disorder (29 who were responders to antidepressant monotherapy and 21 who were not) were compared with 35 non-depressed control subjects. Measures included assessment of vascular risk factors, neuropsychological testing and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
RESULTS: After adjustment for depressed mood and medication at evaluation, both patient groups had significantly more impairment compared to control subjects on verbal learning tasks involving immediate or delayed recall. Patients who did not respond to antidepressant monotherapy had significantly poorer performance than controls on tests involving visuospatial ability, language, word recognition and tests of executive function, whereas there were no differences between control subjects and responders. On two tests of executive function (verbal fluency and the Stroop test) non-responders scored significantly worse than responders. There were no significant group differences on MRI measures of atrophy or of white matter lesions apart from a higher periventricular hyperintensity score in non-responders compared to controls. There were no group differences on measures of vascular disease.
CONCLUSION: The results lend support to the emerging evidence that resistance to treatment in late-onset depression may be associated with impaired executive function. Subtle cerebrovascular mechanisms may be involved.