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Sci Rep. 2019 Oct 17;9(1):14888. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-51533-x.

Elevated perceived threat is associated with reduced hippocampal volume in combat veterans.

Author information

1
Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA. grupe@wisc.edu.
2
The Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA. grupe@wisc.edu.
3
Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
4
Department of Computer Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
5
Sierra Pacific MIRECC, VA Palo Alto Healthcare System, Palo Alto, California, USA.
6
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA.
7
Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
8
The Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
9
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA.

Abstract

Reduced hippocampal volume is frequently observed in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the psychological processes associated with these alterations remain unclear. Given hippocampal involvement in memory and contextual representations of threat, we investigated relationships between retrospectively reported combat exposure, perceived threat, and hippocampal volume in trauma-exposed veterans. T1-weighted anatomical MRI scans were obtained from 56 veterans (4 women, 52 men; 39 with elevated PTSD symptoms, "PTSS" group) and hippocampal volume was estimated using automatic segmentation tools in FreeSurfer. Hippocampal volume was regressed on self-reported perceived threat from the Deployment Risk and Resilience Inventory, and combat exposure from the Combat Exposure Scale. As a secondary analysis, hippocampal volume was regressed on Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) symptoms. In veterans with elevated PTSD symptoms, hippocampal volume was inversely related to perceived threat while deployed while controlling for self-reported combat exposure. Hippocampal volume was also inversely correlated with avoidance/numbing CAPS symptoms. Future research should clarify the temporal milieu of these effects and investigate whether individual differences in hippocampal structure and function contribute to heightened threat appraisal at the time of trauma vs. subsequently elevated appraisals of traumatic events.

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