Faster pace of hippocampal growth mediates the association between perinatal adversity and childhood depression

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2024 Jun:67:101392. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2024.101392. Epub 2024 May 15.


Early life adversity has been posited to influence the pace of structural neurodevelopment. Most research, however, has relied on cross-sectional data, which do not reveal whether the pace of neurodevelopmental change is accelerated or slowed following early exposures. In a birth cohort study that included neuroimaging data obtained at 4.5, 6, and 7.5 years of age (N = 784), we examined associations among a cumulative measure of perinatal adversity relative to resources, nonlinear trajectories of hippocampal and amygdala volume, and children's subsequent depressive symptoms at 8.5 years of age. Greater adversity was associated with reduced bilateral hippocampal body volume in early childhood, but also to faster growth in the right hippocampal body across childhood. Further, the association between adversity and childhood depressive symptoms was mediated by faster hippocampal body growth. These findings suggest that perinatal adversity is biologically embedded in hippocampal structure development, including an accelerated pace of change in the right hippocampal body that is implicated in children's psychopathology risk. In addition, our findings suggest that reduced hippocampal volume is not inconsistent with accelerated hippocampal change; these aspects of structural development may typically co-occur, as smaller regional volumes in early childhood were associated with faster growth across childhood.

Keywords: Adversity; Depression; Development; Hippocampus.

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / growth & development
  • Birth Cohort
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus* / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy