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Background: The aim of this study was to assess the electrophysiological and other influencing factors correlating with symptom severity in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) under three different conditions: baseline, stress exposure, and relaxation following stress exposure. <br>

Methods: Symptom severity was assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) in 89 inpatients (37 women; mean age 51 years) with MDD. Resting heart rate (RHR), heart rate variability (HRV), respiration rate (RR), skin conductance (SC), and skin temperature (ST) were recorded at baseline for 300 s, under stress exposure for 60 s, and under self-induced relaxation for 300 s. Age, nicotine consumption, body mass index, and blood pressure were evaluated as influencing factors. <br>

Results: The BDI-II mean score was 29.7 points. Disease severity correlated positively with SC elevation under stress exposure and with a higher RR in the relaxed state, but no association was found between HRV and symptom severity. Age and higher blood pressure were both associated with lower HRV and higher RHR. <br>

Conclusion: The results indicate that, in patients with MDD, changes in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) are complex; and the assessment of ANS reactivity to stressors is useful. Elevated blood pressure might be underdiagnosed, although it is already relevant in patients with MDD in their early 50s.