BACKGROUND: Early childhood adversity is a strong predictor of the development of major depressive disorder (MDD), but not all depressed patients experience early life stress (ELS). Cardio-metabolic diseases and cognitive deficits often coincide in MDD and worsen its course and outcome. Adverse childhood experiences have been associated with elevated risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), but little is known on the impact of ELS on cardiovascular risk factors in MDD. Here, we examined MDD patients with and without ELS to explore the effects of ELS on serum lipid and lipoprotein levels and on cognitive performances of the patients. METHODS: Participants with a mean age of 35 years (18-55y) were recruited from the university mental health clinic and general community. Three groups, matched in age, gender and lifestyle were examined: MDD patients with ELS (n=21), MDD patients without ELS (n=21), and healthy controls (n=20). The following CVD risk factors were assessed: serum lipids (total cholesterol, triglycerides, high- and low-density lipoproteins), body mass index and exercise in a typical week. MDD severity was measured by the Beck Depression Inventory. Childhood Trauma Questionnaire was used to assess early life adversities. Executive functions and attentional processes were assessed by the Wisconsin Card Sorting and Conners' Continuous Performance tests. RESULTS: MDD patients with ELS had higher serum triglyceride and lower HDL-cholesterol concentrations compared to MDD patients without ELS. Linear regression analysis revealed that the severity of ELS had a significant negative association with HDL-cholesterol levels and significant positive associations with the serum levels of TG and TC/HDL-cholesterol index. We also found significant associations between some specific trauma types and lipid profiles. Finally, we could detect significant associations between depression severity and specific domains of the cognitive tests as well as between lipid profiles and certain domains of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. However, we could not detect any association between the severity of ELS and cognitive performance. CONCLUSIONS: After controlling for depressive symptom severity and lifestyle variables, ELS was found to be a strong predictor of serum lipid alterations. Several, inter-correlated pathways may mediate the undesirable effects of ELS on the course and outcome of MDD.
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