The hippocampus is discussed as one of the key regions in the pathogenesis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). MRI results concerning the volume of the hippocampus are, however, inconsistent. This may be due to the heterogeneity of patients' traumata or postprocessing of the imaging data. To overcome these problems, the present study investigates volume changes in well-characterized chronic PTSD patients in comparison to controls using two different evaluation methods.
Material and methods: 15 patients with chronic PTSD, traumatized at the same air show plane crash in 1988 (Ramstein, Germany), and 15 matched healthy controls participated in this study. All patients suffered from significant impairment by the PTSD; none had a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Hippocampus volume changes were processed by a semi-automated standard procedure performed with BRAINS2 as well as the voxel based morphometry (VBM) using SPM2.
Results: No differences in total brain grey or white matter were detected between patients and controls. No differences in total hippocampal volume or in right and left parts were seen, even when hippocampal volumes were corrected by total brain volume or correlated with clinical data. Finally, no significant differences were detected between patients and controls in hippocampal regions using VBM.
Discussion: This is the first study examining long-term changes in hippocampal volumes in chronic PTSD patients compared to matched controls using two different evaluation methods. Neither conventional volumetry nor VBM could detect any differences in the volume and structure. This supports the hypothesis that previously described hippocampal volume reduction is not necessarily due to PTSD or at least that, after 15 years, volume changes have been restored or have not yet developed.