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Youth Trauma Linked With Brain Alterations in Adults With MDD

February 17, 2021

Trauma or maltreatment during childhood is associated with changes in subregions of the amygdala and hippocampus in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD), according to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience.

“Now that we can actually identify which specific subregions of the amygdala or the hippocampus are permanently altered by incidents of childhood abuse, trauma, or mistreatment, we can start to focus on how to mitigate or even potentially reverse these changes,” said  study coauthor Peter Silverstone, MD, interim chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Researchers analyzed data from high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 35 adults with MDD and 35 matched healthy control subjects between the ages of 18 and 49. Childhood maltreatment was assessed via the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire.

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A diagnosis of MDD combined with a history of childhood maltreatment was negatively linked with volume in the right amygdala, anterior hippocampus, and total cornu ammonis subfield of the hippocampus bilaterally, researchers reported.

They believe the changes triggered in the subregions of the amygdala and hippocampus may make them maladaptive in dealing with adult stresses and, subsequently, increase the risk of depression or other psychiatric disorders in such individuals.

“This may help shed some light on how promising new treatments such as psychedelics work, since there is mounting evidence to suggest they may increase nerve regrowth in these areas,” Dr. Silverstone said. “Understanding the specific structural and neurochemical brain changes that underlie mental health disorders is a crucial step toward developing potential new treatments for these conditions, which have only increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

—Jolynn Tumolo


Aghamohammadi-Sereshki A, Coupland NJ, Silverstone PH, et al. Effects of childhood adversity on the volumes of the amygdala subnuclei and hippocampal subfields in individuals with major depressive disorder. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. 2021;46(1):E186-E195.

Lamphier G. Traumatic stress in childhood can lead to brain changes in adulthood: study [press release]. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry; February 9, 2021.

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