Interaction of recent stressful life events and childhood abuse on orbitofrontal grey matter volume in adults with depression

J Affect Disord. 2022 Sep 1:312:122-127. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2022.06.050. Epub 2022 Jun 23.


Background: The diathesis-stress model of major depressive disorder (MDD) predicts interactions of recent stressful life events (SLEs) in adulthood and early developmental risk factors. We tested, for the first time, the diathesis stress model on brain structure in a large group of MDD patients.

Methods: Structural magnetic resonance imaging data of 1465 participants (656 with lifetime diagnosis MDD; 809 healthy controls) were analyzed using voxel-based morphometry to identify clusters associated with recent SLEs (Life Events Questionnaire). Those clusters were then examined for group (healthy/MDD) × early developmental risk (operationalized as childhood abuse [Childhood Trauma Questionnaire] and a major psychiatric disorder [i.e., MDD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder] in a first-degree relative) × recent SLEs three-way interactions on grey matter volume.

Results: There was a group × childhood abuse × recent SLEs interaction on left medial orbitofrontal cortex grey matter volume. This three-way interaction arose because childhood abuse and recent SLEs interacted in MDD subjects but not in healthy subjects.

Limitations: We are not able to draw conclusions about the cause and effect relationship due to our cross-sectional study design.

Conclusions: Our data provides evidence for an interplay between orbitofrontal cortex structure, childhood abuse and recent SLEs. These factors have previously been linked to MDD and their complex interaction contributes to the pathogenesis of MDD.

Keywords: Childhood abuse; Diathesis-stress model; Magnetic resonance imaging; Orbitofrontal cortex; Stressful life events; Voxel-based morphometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / psychology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Gray Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging