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Brain structural abnormalities and mental health sequelae in South Vietnamese ex-political detainees who survived traumatic head injury and torture.

CONTEXT: A pilot study of South Vietnamese ex-political detainees who had been incarcerated in Vietnamese reeducation camps and resettled in the United States disclosed significant mental health problems associated with torture and traumatic head injury (THI). OBJECTIVES: To identify structural brain alterations associated with THI and to investigate whether these deficits are associated with posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. DESIGN: Cross-sectional neuroimaging study. SETTING: Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital. PARTICIPANTS: A subsample of Vietnamese ex-political detainees (n = 42) and comparison subjects (n = 16) selected from a community study of 337 ex-political detainees and 82 comparison subjects. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Scores on the Vietnamese versions of the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (HSCL) and Harvard Trauma Questionnaire for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, respectively; cerebral regional cortical thickness; and manual volumetric morphometry of the amygdala, hippocampus, and thalamus. RESULTS: Ex-political detainees exposed to THI (n = 16) showed a higher rate of depression (odds ratio, 10.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.2-90.0) than those without THI exposure (n = 26). Ex-political detainees with THI had thinner prefrontotemporal cortices than those without THI exposure (P < .001 by the statistical difference brain map) in the left dorsolateral prefrontal and bilateral superior temporal cortices, controlling for age, handedness, and number of trauma/torture events (left superior frontal cortex [SFC], P = .006; left middle frontal cortex, P = .01; left superior temporal cortex [STC], P = .007; right STC, P = .01). Trauma/torture events were associated with bilateral amygdala volume loss (left, P = .045; right, P = .003). Cortical thinning associated with THI in the left SFC and bilateral STC was related to HSCL depression scores in THI-exposed (vs non-THI-exposed) ex-political detainees (left SFC, P for interaction = .007; left STC, P for interaction = .03; right STC, P for interaction = .02). CONCLUSIONS: Structural deficits in prefrontotemporal brain regions are linked to THI exposures. These brain lesions are associated with the symptom severity of depression in Vietnamese ex-political detainees.

Pubmed ID: 19884610


  • Mollica RF
  • Lyoo IK
  • Chernoff MC
  • Bui HX
  • Lavelle J
  • Yoon SJ
  • Kim JE
  • Renshaw PF


Archives of general psychiatry

Publication Data

November 3, 2009

Associated Grants

  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: MH R01-059559-04

Mesh Terms

  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group
  • Brain
  • Brain Injuries
  • Craniocerebral Trauma
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder
  • Functional Laterality
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Politics
  • Prisoners
  • Quality of Life
  • Questionnaires
  • Refugees
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
  • Survivors
  • Torture
  • United States
  • Vietnam
  • Vietnam Conflict