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Neuroimage. 2007 Jan 15;34(2):479-85. Epub 2006 Nov 21.

Hippocampal volume is as variable in young as in older adults: implications for the notion of hippocampal atrophy in humans.

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  • 1Center for Studies on Human Stress, Douglas Hospital Research Center, McGill University, 6875 Blvd. LaSalle, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H4H 1R3.


Previous studies in humans have shown the presence of an age-related reduction of hippocampal (HC) volume, as well as the presence of reduced HC volume in psychiatric populations suffering from schizophrenia, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Altogether, these data suggested that aging or psychiatric disease can have neurotoxic effects on the hippocampus, and lead to HC atrophy. However, these two sets of findings imply that HC volume in young healthy adults should present less variability than HC volume in older adults and psychiatric populations. In the present study, we assessed HC volume in 177 healthy men and women aged from 18 to 85 years of age. We show that the dispersion around the mean of HC volume is not different in young and older adults, so that 25% of young healthy adults present HC volume as small as the average participants aged 60 to 75 years. This shows that HC volume is as variable in young as in older adults and suggests that smaller HC volume attributed to the aging process in previous studies could in fact represent HC volume determined early in life. We also report that within similar age groups, the percentage of difference in HC volume between the individuals with the smallest HC volume (smallest quartile) and the group average is greater than the percentage of difference reported to exist between psychiatric populations and normal control in recent meta-analyses. Taken together, these results confront the notion of hippocampal atrophy in humans and raise the possibility that pre-determined inter-individual differences in HC volume in humans may determine the vulnerability for age-related cognitive impairments or psychopathology throughout the lifetime.

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