The authors reviewed magnetic resonance imaging volumetric imaging results in major mood disorders, particularly comparing similarities and differences from studies of bipolar disorder and unipolar major depression. Abnormalities of cerebral brain regions appear inconsistently in mood disorders and, when present, typically consist of decreased frontal or prefrontal cortical volumes in both unipolar depression and bipolar disorder. In contrast, subcortical and medial temporal abnormalities are more commonly observed and are different between these two major classes of affective illness. Specifically, whereas structural enlargement of the basal ganglia and amygdala have been observed in bipolar disorder, in unipolar depression, these structures appear to be smaller in patients than healthy subjects. These findings suggest that affective illnesses may share in common an underdeveloped or atrophied prefrontal region, leading to loss of cortical modulation of limbic emotional networks. The effect of this loss results in unipolar depression or cycling (mania with depression) depending on the abnormalities of the subcortical structures involved. The cerebellum may also play a role in the presentation of mood disorders. This hypothesis remains speculative as much more research is needed to specifically examine how morphometric brain abnormalities translate into the neurophysiologic deficits that produce mood disorders.