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Smaller hippocampal volume predicts pathologic vulnerability to psychological trauma.

In animals, exposure to severe stress can damage the hippocampus. Recent human studies show smaller hippocampal volume in individuals with the stress-related psychiatric condition posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Does this represent the neurotoxic effect of trauma, or is smaller hippocampal volume a pre-existing condition that renders the brain more vulnerable to the development of pathological stress responses? In monozygotic twins discordant for trauma exposure, we found evidence that smaller hippocampi indeed constitute a risk factor for the development of stress-related psychopathology. Disorder severity in PTSD patients who were exposed to trauma was negatively correlated with the hippocampal volume of both the patients and the patients' trauma-unexposed identical co-twin. Furthermore, severe PTSD twin pairs-both the trauma-exposed and unexposed members-had significantly smaller hippocampi than non-PTSD pairs.

Pubmed ID: 12379862


  • Gilbertson MW
  • Shenton ME
  • Ciszewski A
  • Kasai K
  • Lasko NB
  • Orr SP
  • Pitman RK


Nature neuroscience

Publication Data

November 29, 2002

Associated Grants

  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: K02 MH001110
  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: K02 MH001110-10
  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: K02-MH01110
  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: R01-MH54636

Mesh Terms

  • Alcoholism
  • Combat Disorders
  • Comorbidity
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Twins, Monozygotic