Hippocampal to pituitary volume ratio: a specific measure of reciprocal neuroendocrine alterations in alcohol dependence

J Stud Alcohol. 1999 Sep;60(5):586-8. doi: 10.15288/jsa.1999.60.586.


Objective: Studies to date provide conflicting views of the relationship between corticosteroids and decreased hippocampal volume in alcoholism. If this were mediated through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, enlarged pituitary volumes relative to hippocampal volumes might be expected and be measurable using the hippocampus to pituitary volume (H:P) ratio.

Method: Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we performed volumetric analysis of the pituitary and hippocampus on 10 subjects with alcohol dependence (AD) and on 10 normal control subjects.

Results: Compared to normal controls, AD subjects demonstrated a trend towards decreased hippocampal volume (p < .06) and increased pituitary volume (p < .07). More importantly, H:P ratios were significantly smaller in AD subjects (p < .01). This observation persisted even when covaried for age.

Conclusions: Reduced H:P ratio fits the hypothesis that ethanol stimulates pituitary corticotrophs resulting in elevated corticosteroid levels and possible injury to the hippocampus. If replicated, reduced H:P ratio may serve as a clinical measure of reciprocal neuroendocrine changes in chronic heavy ethanol use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / blood
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / metabolism
  • Alcoholism / pathology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • Pituitary Gland / pathology*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones