Loneliness in late-life depression: Structural and functional connectivity during affective processing

Man Lok Nichol WONG, H.-L. LIU, C. LIN, C.-M. HUANG, Y.-Y. WAI, S.-H. LEE, T. M. C. LEE

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Background: Late-life depression (LLD) in the elderly was reported to present with emotion dysregulation accompanied by high perceived loneliness. Previous research has suggested that LLD is a disorder of connectivity and is associated with aberrant network properties. On the other hand, perceived loneliness is found to adversely affect the brain, but little is known about its neurobiological basis in LLD. The current study investigated the relationships between the structural connectivity, functional connectivity during affective processing, and perceived loneliness in LLD. 

Method: The current study included 54 participants aged >60 years of whom 31 were diagnosed with LLD. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data and task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data of an affective processing task were collected. Network-based statistics and graph theory techniques were applied, and the participants' perceived loneliness and depression level were measured. The affective processing task included viewing affective stimuli. 

Results: Structurally, a loneliness-related sub-network was identified across all subjects. Functionally, perceived loneliness was related to connectivity differently in LLD than that in controls when they were processing negative stimuli, with aberrant networking in subcortical area. 

Conclusions: Perceived loneliness was identified to have a unique role in relation to the negative affective processing in LLD at the functional brain connectional and network levels. The findings increas our understanding of LLD and provide initial evidence of the neurobiological mechanisms of loneliness in LLD. Loneliness might be a potential intervention target in depressive patients. Copyright © 2016 Cambridge University Press.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2485-2499
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number12
Early online dateJun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


Wong, N. M. L., Liu, H.-L., Lin, C., Huang, C.-M., Wai, Y.-Y., Lee, S.-H., & Lee, T. M. C. (2016). Loneliness in late-life depression: Structural and functional connectivity during affective processing. Psychological Medicine, 46(12), 2485-2499. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291716001033


  • Connectivity
  • DTI
  • fMRI
  • Late-life depression
  • Loneliness


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