Hippocampal volume in vulnerability and resilience to depression

Wing Chan, Catherine Harmer, Raymond Norbury, Ursula O'Sullivan, Guy Goodwin, Maria J. Portella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Reduced hippocampal volume has been associated with clinical depression. However, it remains unclear whether these changes are a biological vulnerability marker or a consequence of this disorder.
Methods & Results (Study 1). We first compared hippocampal volumes between (i) never-depressed individuals with elevated risk for depression by virtue of high neuroticism (ii) recovered depressed individuals with matched levels of neuroticism; and (iii) individuals with low neuroticism and no history of depression. We replicated the finding of reduced hippocampal volume in the recovered group; unexpectedly however, the never-depressed high-risk group showed an increase in volume. One hypothesis is that this group had a mean age above the typical onset age for depression; hence, these participants who have remained euthymic despite their personality risk might in fact possess some resilience.
Methods & Results (Study 2). A subsequent study was therefore carried out to compare hippocampal volume between high-neurotic vs. low-neurotic volunteers in a younger sample. No group difference was found.
Limitations. The present findings are limited by a small sample size; the cross-sectional design precluded us from making definitive conclusions about causal effect. 
Conclusion. Our overall results suggest that reduced hippocampal volumes is a neural marker for the scar effect of depression, although this structural impairment could also be seen as a vulnerability marker for the development of future recurrent episodes. By contrast, larger hippocampal volumes could be a biological marker of resilience. These findings have clinical implications regarding treatment development for the prevention of illness onset and recurrent depressive episodes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-202
JournalJournal of affective disorders
Early online date1 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • hippocampus
  • resilience
  • vulnerability
  • depression
  • risk
  • neuroticism

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