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Subcortical structures associated with childhood trauma and perceived stress in schizophrenia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2022

Fengmei Fan
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Shuping Tan
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Shibo Liu
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Song Chen
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Junchao Huang
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Zhiren Wang
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Fude Yang
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Chiang-Shan R. Li
Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA
Yunlong Tan*
Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, Peking University Huilongguan Clinical Medical School, Beijing, P. R. China
Author for correspondence: Yunlong Tan, E-mail:



Childhood trauma influences the clinical features of schizophrenia. In this study, we examined how childhood trauma and perceived stress are associated with clinical manifestations and subcortical gray matter volumes (GMVs) in patients with schizophrenia.


We recruited 127 patients with schizophrenia and 83 healthy controls for assessment of early childhood trauma, perceived stress, and clinical symptoms. With structural brain imaging, we identified the GMVs of subcortical structures and examined the relationships between childhood trauma, perceived stress, clinical symptoms, and subcortical GMVs.


Compared to controls, patients with schizophrenia showed higher levels of childhood trauma and perceived stress. Patients with schizophrenia showed significantly smaller amygdala and hippocampus GMVs as well as total cortical GMVs than age-matched controls. Childhood trauma score was significantly correlated with the severity of clinical symptoms, depression, perceived stress, and amygdala GMVs. Perceived stress was significantly correlated with clinical symptoms, depression, and hippocampus and amygdala GMVs. Further, the association between childhood trauma (emotional neglect) and stress coping ability was mediated by right amygdala GMV in patients with schizophrenia.


Patients with schizophrenia had more exposure to early-life trauma and poorer stress coping. Both childhood trauma and perceived stress were associated with smaller amygdala volumes. The relationship between early-life trauma and perceived stress was mediated by right amygdala GMV in patients with schizophrenia. These findings together suggest the long-term effects of childhood trauma on perceived stress and the subcortical volumetric correlates of the effects in schizophrenia.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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