The role of glia in late-life depression

Matt Bennett Paradise*, Sharon Linda Naismith, Louisa Margaret Norrie, Manuel Benedikt Graeber, Ian Bernard Hickie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Late-life depression (LLD) has a complex and multifactoral etiology. There is growing interest in elucidating how glia, acting alone or as part of a glial-neuronal network, may contribute to the pathophysiology of depression. In this paper, we explore results from neuroimaging studies showing gray-matter volume loss in key frontal and subcortical structures implicated in LLD, and present the few histological studies that have examined neuronal and glial densities in these regions. Compared to results in younger people with depression, there appear to be age-dependent differences in neuronal pathology but the changes in glial pathology may be more subtle, perhaps reflecting a longer-term compensatory gliosis to earlier damage. We then consider the mechanisms by which both astrocytes and microglia may mediate and modulate neuronal dysfunction and possible degeneration in depression. These include a critical role in the response to peripheral inflammation and central microglial activation, as well as a key role in glutamate metabolism. Advances in our understanding of glia are highlighted, including the role of microglia as "electricians" of the brain and astrocytes as key communicating cells, an integral part of the tripartite synapse. Finally, implications for clinicians are discussed, including the consideration of glia as biomarkers for LLD and incorporation of glia into future therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1878-1890
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Psychogeriatrics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • aging
  • glial cells
  • immunity
  • late-life depression
  • major depression
  • neuroprotection
  • post-mortem


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