Childhood maltreatment, psychopathology, and the development of hippocampal subregions during adolescence

Sarah Whittle, Julian G. Simmons, Sylke Hendriksma, Nandita Vijayakumar, Michelle L. Byrne, Meg Dennison, Nicholas B. Allen

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Introduction: It is well established that childhood maltreatment has a detrimental impact on the brain, particularly the hippocampus. However, the hippocampus is a functionally and structurally heterogeneous region, and little is known about how maltreatment might affect hippocampal subregion development throughout important periods of plasticity. This study investigated whether childhood maltreatment was associated with the development of hippocampal subregion volumes from early to late adolescence. It also investigated associations between onset of psychiatric disorder and hippocampal subregion volume development. Methods: One hundred and sixty-six (85 male) adolescents took part in three magnetic resonance imaging assessments during adolescence (mean age at each assessment: 12.79 [SD 0.43] years, 16.70 [SD 0.52] years, and 19.08 [SD 0.46] years), provided a self-report of childhood maltreatment, and were assessed for Axis I psychopathology. Results: Childhood maltreatment was associated with the development of right total and left cornu ammonis 4 (CA4-DG) volumes from early to late adolescence. Early and late onset psychopathology was associated with the development of right presubiculum and right cornu ammonis 1 (CA1) volumes, respectively. Maltreatment findings appeared to be specific to males, whereas psychopathology findings appeared to be specific to females. Conclusions: These findings provide evidence for possible deleterious effects of childhood maltreatment and early onset psychiatric disorder on the development of different subregions of the hippocampus. Altered development of the right CA1, on the other hand, might precede the development of late-adolescent onset psychopathology. Our results highlight the importance of considering development in research examining associations between stress, mental illness, and hippocampal morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00607
Number of pages9
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • brain development
  • child abuse
  • longitudinal
  • mental health
  • neuroimaging

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