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Childhood maltreatment (CM) plays an important role in the development of major depressive disorder (MDD). The aim of this study was to examine whether CM severity and type are associated with MDD-related brain alterations, and how they interact with sex and age.
Within the ENIGMA-MDD network, severity and subtypes of CM using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire were assessed and structural magnetic resonance imaging data from patients with MDD and healthy controls were analyzed in a mega-analysis comprising a total of 3872 participants aged between 13 and 89 years. Cortical thickness and surface area were extracted at each site using FreeSurfer.
CM severity was associated with reduced cortical thickness in the banks of the superior temporal sulcus and supramarginal gyrus as well as with reduced surface area of the middle temporal lobe. Participants reporting both childhood neglect and abuse had a lower cortical thickness in the inferior parietal lobe, middle temporal lobe, and precuneus compared to participants not exposed to CM. In males only, regardless of diagnosis, CM severity was associated with higher cortical thickness of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. Finally, a significant interaction between CM and age in predicting thickness was seen across several prefrontal, temporal, and temporo-parietal regions.
Severity and type of CM may impact cortical thickness and surface area. Importantly, CM may influence age-dependent brain maturation, particularly in regions related to the default mode network, perception, and theory of mind.
Previous studies suggested that exposure to traumatic events during childhood and adulthood and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are associated with a dysregulation of different neuroendocrine systems. However, the activity of the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone-system (RAAS) in relation to trauma/PTSD has been largely neglected.
Traumatization, PTSD, and plasma concentrations of renin and aldosterone were measured in 3092 individuals from the general population. Subgroups according to the status of traumatization (‘without trauma’; ‘trauma, without PTSD’, ‘PTSD’) were formed and compared regarding renin and aldosterone concentrations. Additionally, we calculated the associations between the number of traumata, renin, and aldosterone concentrations. Finally, associations of PTSD with renin/aldosterone levels were controlled for the number of traumata (‘trauma load’).
Levels of renin, but not aldosterone, were increased in traumatized persons without PTSD (p = 0.02) and, even stronger, with PTSD (p < 0.01). Moreover, we found a dose–response relation between the number of traumata and renin levels (β = 0.065; p < 0.001). Regression analyses showed PTSD as a significant predictor of renin (β = 0.38; p < 0.01). This effect was only slightly attenuated when controlled for trauma load (β = 0.32; p < 0.01).
Our results suggest that traumatization has lasting and cumulative effects on RAAS activity. Finding elevated renin levels in PTSD independent from trauma load supports the concept of PTSD as a disorder with specific neuroendocrine characteristics. Alternatively, elevated renin levels in traumatized persons may increase the risk for developing PTSD. Our findings contribute to explain the relationship between traumatic stress/PTSD and physical disorders.
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