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Losing one's only child is a major traumatic life event that may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, the underlying mechanisms of its psychological consequences remain poorly understood. Here, we investigated subregional hippocampal functional connectivity (FC) networks based on resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging and the deoxyribonucleic acid methylation of the human glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) in adults who had lost their only child.
A total of 144 Han Chinese adults who had lost their only child (51 adults with PTSD and 93 non-PTSD adults [trauma-exposed controls]) and 50 controls without trauma exposure were included in this fMRI study (age: 40–67 years). FCs between hippocampal subdivisions (four regions in each hemisphere: cornu ammonis1 [CA1], CA2, CA3, and dentate gyrus [DG]) and methylation levels of the NR3C1 gene were compared among the three groups.
Trauma-exposed adults, regardless of PTSD diagnosis, had weaker positive FC between the left hippocampal CA1, left DG, and the posterior cingulate cortex, and weaker negative FC between the right CA1, right DG, and several frontal gyri, relative to healthy controls. Compared to non-PTSD adults, PTSD adults showed decreased negative FC between the right CA1 region and the right middle/inferior frontal gyri (MFG/IFG), and decreased negative FC between the right DG and the right superior frontal gyrus and left MFG. Both trauma-exposed groups showed lower methylation levels of the NR3C1 gene.
Adults who had lost their only child may experience disrupted hippocampal network connectivity and NR3C1 methylation status, regardless of whether they have developed PTSD.
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