In vivo imaging of adult human hippocampal neurogenesis: progress, pitfalls and promise

Mol Psychiatry. 2013 Apr;18(4):404-16. doi: 10.1038/mp.2013.8. Epub 2013 Feb 26.


New neurons are produced within the hippocampus of the mammalian brain throughout life. Evidence from animal studies has suggested that the function of these adult-born neurons is linked to cognition and emotion. Until we are able to detect and measure levels of adult neurogenesis in living human brains-a formidable challenge for now-we cannot establish its functional importance in human health, disease and new treatment development. Current non-invasive neuroimaging modalities can provide live snapshots of the brain's structure, chemistry, activity and connectivity. This review explores whether existing macroscopic imaging methods can be used to understand the microscopic dynamics of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in living individuals. We discuss recent studies that have found correlations between neuroimaging measures of human hippocampal biology and levels of pro- or anti-neurogenic stimuli, weigh whether these correlations reflect changes in adult neurogenesis, detail the conceptual and technical limitations of these studies and elaborate on what will be needed to validate in vivo neuroimaging measures of adult neurogenesis for future investigations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neuroimaging / standards*


  • Antidepressive Agents