Hippocampal and parahippocampal volumes vary by sex and traumatic life events in children

Amy S. Badura Brack, Mackenzie S. Mills, Christine M. Embury, Maya M. Khanna, Alicia Klanecky Earl, Julia M. Stephen, Yu Ping Wang, Vince D. Calhoun, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Childhood trauma is reliably associated with smaller hippocampal volume in adults; however, this finding has not been shown in children, and even less is known about how sex and trauma interact to affect limbic structural development in children. Methods: Typically developing children aged 9 to 15 years who completed a trauma history questionnaire and structural T1-weighted MRI were included in this study (n = 172; 85 female, 87 male). All children who reported 4 or more traumas (n = 36) composed the high trauma group, and all children who reported 3 or fewer traumas (n = 136) composed the low trauma group. Using multivariate analysis of covariance, we compared FreeSurfer-derived structural MRI volumes (normalized by total intracranial volume) of the amygdalar, hippo-campal and parahippocampal regions by sex and trauma level, controlling for age and study site. Results: We found a significant sex × trauma interaction, such that girls with high trauma had greater volumes than boys with high trauma. Follow-up analyses indicated sig-nificantly increased volumes for girls and generally decreased volumes for boys, specifically in the hippocampal and parahippocampal regions for the high trauma group; we observed no sex differences in the low trauma group. We noted no interaction effect for the amygdalae. Limitations: We assessed a community sample and did not include a clinical sample. We did not collect data about the ages at which children experienced trauma. Conclusion: Results revealed that psychological trauma affects brain development differ-ently in girls and boys. These findings need to be followed longitudinally to elucidate how structural differences progress and contribute to well-known sex disparities in psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-297
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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    Badura Brack, A. S., Mills, M. S., Embury, C. M., Khanna, M. M., Earl, A. K., Stephen, J. M., Wang, Y. P., Calhoun, V. D., & Wilson, T. W. (2020). Hippocampal and parahippocampal volumes vary by sex and traumatic life events in children. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 45(4), 288-297. https://doi.org/10.1503/jpn.190013