We propose that cerebrovascular disease may predispose, precipitate, or perpetuate some geriatric depressive syndromes. The "vascular depression" hypothesis is supported by the comorbidity of depression, vascular disease, and vascular risk factors and the association of ischemic lesions to distinctive behavioral symptoms. Disruption of prefrontal systems or their modulating pathways by single lesions or by an accumulation of lesions exceeding a threshold are hypothesized to be central mechanisms in vascular depression. The vascular depression concept can generate studies of clinical and heuristic value. Drugs used for the prevention and treatment of cerebrovascular disease may be shown to reduce the risk for vascular depression or improve its outcomes. The choice of antidepressants in vascular depression may depend on their effect on neurologic recovery from ischemic lesions. Research can clarify the pathways to vascular depression by focusing on the site of the lesion, the resultant brain dysfunction, the presentation of depression and time of onset, and the contribution of nonbiological factors.