Hippocampal volume in aging combat veterans with and without post-traumatic stress disorder: relation to risk and resilience factors

J Psychiatr Res. 2007 Aug;41(5):435-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2005.12.002. Epub 2006 Jan 30.


Objective: To examine whether there are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related differences in hippocampal volume in middle-aged and elderly veterans and to examine the relationship of neuroendocrine activity, memory performance, and measures of risk and resilience for PTSD to hippocampal volume in this cohort.

Methods: Seventeen veterans with chronic PTSD and 16 veterans without chronic PTSD received an MRI scan followed by neuroendocrine assessment (24-h urinary cortisol excretion and the lysozyme IC(50-DEX), a measure of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) responsiveness), and cognitive testing.

Results: Veterans with PTSD did not differ from those without PTSD in hippocampal volume, but they did show significantly lower urinary cortisol levels, and poorer memory performance on the Wechsler Logical Memory test and Digit Span test. Smaller left hippocampal volumes were observed in veterans who developed PTSD in response to their first reported traumatic exposure, compared to veterans who had first experienced a traumatic event to which they did not develop PTSD, prior to experiencing a subsequent event that led to PTSD. In contrast, the two neuroendocrine measures were associated with risk factors related to early trauma exposure.

Conclusion: Although hippocampal volume was not found to differ between subjects with and without PTSD, smaller hippocampal volumes in PTSD may be associated with specific risk and resilience factors. These may be distinct from vulnerability markers associated with increased responsiveness to glucocorticoids and/or other neuroendocrine measures that have been observed in combat-related PTSD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / urine
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Warfare*
  • Wechsler Scales


  • Hydrocortisone