Smaller hippocampal volume predicts pathologic vulnerability to psychological trauma

M. W. Gilbertson, M. E. Shenton, A. Ciszewski, K. Kasai, N. B. Lasko, S. P. Orr, R. K. Pitman
Nat Neuroscience
Volume 5, Number 11, Pages 656-658

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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.


Gilbertson MW, Shenton ME, Ciszewski A, Kasai K, Lasko NB, Orr SP, Pitman RK. Smaller hippocampal volume predicts pathologic vulnerability to psychological trauma. Nat Neuroscience 2002;5(11):656-658.


VA Merit Award(MWG) 1998, VA Merit Award(SPO), R01 MH54636, NIH/NIMH 2K02 MH01110

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