Background: If specific symptom profiles of depressive disorders in the elderly are related to a specific etiology, this could have implications for everyday clinical practice. We hypothesized that a 'motivational' profile, with symptoms such as psychomotor change, loss of interest and loss of energy, could clinically separate patients with predominantly vascular or degenerative risk indicators from patients with inflammatory risk indicators. Methods: A total of 4051 subjects participated in a study on mental health problems in community-dwelling elderly. Information on psychiatric symptoms, demographic and medical status, previous history and family history was obtained. We distinguished three subgroups according to predominant somatic risk-indicators; vascular, degenerative and inflammatory groups. Results: Motivational symptoms were associated with vascular or degenerative risk-indicators for depression; psychomotor change with both indicators; loss of energy with vascular, though also with the inflammatory indicator, and thinking/concentration disturbance with the degenerative indicator. The so-called mood symptoms of depression, especially thoughts of death, were more strongly related with the inflammatory risk-indicator. Melancholic symptoms like appetite and sleep disturbances were more strongly associated with the inflammatory risk-indicator. Limitations: Etiological classification was not confirmed by additional investigations such as laboratory findings or MRI brain scans. Conclusion: This study showed that in patients with a late-life depression specific symptoms of the depressive disorder may reflect the predominant underlying pathogenic mechanism.