BACKGROUND: The purpose of this study was to measure amygdala and hippocampus volumes in pediatric major depressive disorder (MDD) and to address the question of neuroanatomical continuity with adult-onset depression. METHODS: We studied 20 children and adolescents with MDD (17 female subjects) and 24 healthy comparison subjects (16 female subjects) using 1.5 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging. Group differences in left and right amygdala and hippocampus volumes were examined using repeated measures analyses of covariance, adjusting for age, gender, and whole brain volume. RESULTS: Depressed children had significant reductions of left and right amygdala volumes compared with healthy subjects. Hippocampus volumes did not differ between the groups. No significant correlations were found between amygdala volumes and depressive symptom severity, age at onset, or illness duration. CONCLUSIONS: Smaller amygdalas are present early in the course of pediatric depression and may predispose to the development of this disorder or perhaps more generally of childhood mood disorders. Future research should examine the longitudinal course and functional correlates of amygdala volume abnormalities in childhood-onset depression, including their possible moderation by gender.
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