Volumetric analysis of the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus in major depression

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004 May;29(5):952-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300371.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies in depressed subjects report smaller volumes of amygdala, hippocampus, inferior anterior cingulate, and the orbital prefrontal cortex (OPFC), components of the limbic-cortico-thalamic circuit. Major depression occurs more commonly in women, raising the possibility of an additional psychopathological process affecting women and not men. We sought to determine whether volumetric differences related to mood disorders are dependent on sex. Eight male and 10 female depressed subjects, meeting DSM III R criteria for a major depressive episode, and eight male and 10 female healthy volunteers had MRI scans on a 1.5 T GE Signa Advantage scanner. The regions of interest included amygdala, hippocampus, inferior anterior cingulate, and OPFC. In all analyses, regional volumes were normalized for total cerebral volume. Volumetric changes in the ROIs showed a significant sex by diagnosis interaction, indicating a different pattern of volumetric changes in depressed males compared with females relative to controls. Relative to sex-matched controls, the left inferior anterior cingulate was smaller in depressed males (23%) compared with depressed females (11%). Depressed females but not depressed males had smaller amygdala compared with controls (F-value = 4.946, p = 0.033). No significant volumetric differences were noted in the hippocampus or OPFC. No volumetric correlations were noted with clinical variables, depression subtypes, or a reported history of sexual or physical abuse. Sex may affect volumetric deficits in amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex in mood disorders, but no effects were found in the hippocampus or OPFC. The biology of mood disorders in females may differ in some aspects from males, and may contribute to the higher rate of depression in women.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / pathology
  • Amygdala / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / pathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Education
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sex Characteristics