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Psychiatry Res. 2008 Jan 15;162(1):39-49.

Childhood adversity predicts earlier onset of major depression but not reduced hippocampal volume.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, 3rd Floor Sennott Square, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA. lenzesn@upmc.edu


Childhood adversity may influence severity and age of onset of depression, potentially mediated by greater vulnerability to an existing biochemical or neural mechanism. Prior studies have suggested that reduced hippocampal volume is a result of childhood adversity. This study examined the relationship between childhood adversity, hippocampal volumes and clinical characteristics in women who were recruited for depression history rather than abuse experiences. Thirty-one women with remitted unipolar depression and 24 psychiatrically healthy women completed the Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse interview [Bifulco, A., Brown, G.W., Harris, T.O., 1994. Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse (CECA): A retrospective interview measure. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 55, 1419-1435]. High resolution MRI scans and hippocampal volumetric determination by stereological assessment were obtained. We found that childhood adversity was associated with a history of recurrent depression and with earlier age of depression onset. We did not find a relationship between childhood adversity and hippocampal volumes in this sample with mild childhood adversity. Our results suggest that the decreased hippocampal volume seen in Major Depressive Disorder may be mediated by additional factors. Further research is needed to more fully understand the interrelationships among childhood adversity, hippocampal morphology, neuroendocrine regulation, and other genetic and environmental factors influencing vulnerability to depression.

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