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Hippocampal volume and sensitivity to maternal aggressive behavior: A prospective study of adolescent depressive symptoms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 January 2011

Sarah Whittle
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne
Marie B. H. Yap
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne
Lisa Sheeber
Affiliation:
Oregon Research Institute
Paul Dudgeon
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne
Murat Yücel
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne
Christos Pantelis
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne
Julian G. Simmons
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne
Nicholas B. Allen*
Affiliation:
University of Melbourne
*Corresponding
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Nicholas B. Allen, Orygen Youth Health Research Centre and Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia; E-mail: nba@unimelb.edu.au.

Abstract

It has been suggested that biological factors confer increased sensitivity to environmental influences on depressive symptoms during adolescence, a crucial time for the onset of depressive disorders. Given the critical role of the hippocampus in sensitivity to stress and processing of contextual aspects of the environment, investigation of its role in determining sensitivity to environmental context seems warranted. This study prospectively examined hippocampal volume as a measure of sensitivity to the influence of aggressive maternal behavior on change in depressive symptoms from early to midadolescence. The interaction between aggressive maternal behavior and hippocampal volume was found to predict change in depressive symptoms. Significant sex differences also emerged, whereby only for girls were larger bilateral hippocampal volumes more sensitive to the effects of maternal aggressive behavior, particularly with respect to experiencing the protective effects of low levels of maternal aggressiveness. These findings help elucidate the complex relationships between brain structure, environmental factors such as maternal parenting style, and sensitivity to (i.e., risk for, and protection from) the emergence of depression during this life stage. Given that family context risk factors are modifiable, our findings suggest the potential utility of targeted parenting interventions for the prevention and treatment of adolescent depressive disorder.

Type
Special Section Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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