Hippocampus, glucocorticoids and neurocognitive functions in patients with first-episode major depressive disorders

Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2010 Apr;260(3):217-23. doi: 10.1007/s00406-009-0045-x. Epub 2009 Sep 12.


The aim of this study was to determine whether there was any relationship between hippocampal volume, and glucocorticoid regulation, and cognitive dysfunctions in drug-naïve major depressive disorder (MDD) patients during their first episode. Twenty drug-free female MDD patients in their first episode and 15 healthy females as control subjects were included in the study. All subjects underwent 3.0 Tesla (T) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), comprehensive neuropsychological testing and dexamethasone suppression tests (DST). The volumes of the right and left hippocampus of the patients were found to be significantly smaller than those of the controls. Patients were found to have significantly lower scores on measures of attention, working memory, psychomotor speed, executive functions, and visual and verbal memory fields. The performance of the patients only in the recollection memory and memory of reward-associated rules were positively correlated with hippocampal volumes. The volumes of the left and right hippocampus did not correlate with basal or post-dexamethasone cortisol levels. Our findings indicate that depressed patients have smaller hippocampi even in the earlier phase of their illness. Further research efforts are needed to explain the mechanisms that are responsible for the small hippocampus in depressed patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / complications
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / pathology
  • Dexamethasone
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dexamethasone