Magnetic resonance imaging study of hippocampal volume in chronic, combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder

Gurvits TV, Shenton ME, Hokama H, Ohta H, Lasko NB, Gilbertson MW, Orr SP, Kikinis R, Jolesz FA, McCarley RW, Pitman RK

Biol. Psychiatry 1996 Dec;40(11):1091-9

PMID: 8931911


This study used quantitative volumetric magnetic resonance imaging techniques to explore the neuroanatomic correlates of chronic, combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in seven Vietnam veterans with PTSD compared with seven nonPTSD combat veterans and eight normal nonveterans. Both left and right hippocampi were significantly smaller in the PTSD subjects compared to the Combat Control and Normal subjects, even after adjusting for age, whole brain volume, and lifetime alcohol consumption. There were no statistically significant group differences in intracranial cavity, whole brain, ventricles, ventricle:brain ratio, or amygdala. Subarachnoidal cerebrospinal fluid was increased in both veteran groups. Our finding of decreased hippocampal volume in PTSD subjects is consistent with results of other investigations which utilized only trauma-unexposed control groups. Hippocampal volume was directly correlated with combat exposure, which suggests that traumatic stress may damage the hippocampus. Alternatively, smaller hippocampi volume may be a pre-existing risk factor for combat exposure and/or the development of PTSD upon combat exposure.