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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • 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