Comorbidity of major depressive disorder (MDD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) represents the fourth leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, and women have a two times greater risk than men. Thus understanding the pathophysiology has widespread implications for attenuation and prevention of disease burden. We suggest that sex-dependent MDD-CVD comorbidity may result from alterations in fetal programming consequent to the prenatal maternal environments that produce excess glucocorticoids, which then drive sex-dependent developmental alterations of the fetal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis circuitry impacting mood, stress regulation, autonomic nervous system (ANS), and the vasculature in adulthood. Evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that disruptions of pathways associated with gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in neuronal and vascular development and growth factors have critical roles in key developmental periods and adult responses to injury in heart and brain. Understanding the potential fetal origins of these sex differences will contribute to development of novel sex-dependent therapeutics. © 2013 Elsevier Inc.
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