Decreased hippocampal volume in healthy girls at risk of depression

  • Chen M
  • Hamilton J
  • Gotlib I
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CONTEXT: Researchers have documented that the hippocampus is smaller in individuals with depression than in those without. The temporal or causal association of this reduction in hippocampal volume in depression, however, is not known. OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that reduced hippocampal volume precedes and therefore may be implicated in the onset of depression. DESIGN: We used magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain structure volume in individuals at high and low familial risk of depression. Anatomic images from magnetic resonance imaging were analyzed using both whole-brain voxel-based morphometry and manual tracing of the bilateral hippocampus. SETTING: A research university. PARTICIPANTS: Fifty-five girls aged between 9 and 15 years: 23 daughters of mothers with recurrent episodes of depression in the daughter's lifetime (high risk) and 32 age-matched daughters of mothers with no history of psychopathology (low risk). None of the girls had any past or current Axis I psychopathology. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Group differences in voxel-based morphometry brain matter density estimates and traced hippocampal volume. RESULTS: Voxel-based morphometry analyses indicated that individuals at high risk of depression had significantly less gray matter density in clusters in the bilateral hippocampus (P < .001) than low-risk participants. Tracing yielded a volumetric reduction in the left hippocampus in the high-risk participants (P < .05). CONCLUSIONS: Compared with individuals at low familial risk of the development of depression, high-risk individuals have reduced hippocampal volume, indicating that neuroanatomic anomalies associated with depression may precede the onset of a depressive episode and influence the development and course of this disorder.

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  • Michael ChenHarvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

  • J. Paul Hamilton

  • Ian H. Gotlib

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