Social support and hippocampal volume are negatively associated in adults with previous experience of childhood maltreatment

Social support and hippocampal volume are negatively associated in adults with previous experience of childhood maltreatment

J Psychiatry Neurosci 2021;46(3):E328-E336 | PDF | Appendix

Katharina Förster, PhD*; Lorenz Danzer*; Ronny Redlich, PhD, PhD; Nils Opel, MD; Dominik Grotegerd, PhD; Elisabeth J. Leehr, PhD; Katharina Dohm, PhD; Verena Enneking, MSc; Susanne Meinert, MSc; Janik Goltermann, MSc; Hannah Lemke, MSc; Lena Waltemate, MSc; Katharina Thiel, MSc; Katja Behnert; Katharina Brosch, MSc; Frederike Stein, MA; Tina Meller, PhD; Kai Ringwald, MSc; Simon Schmitt, MSc; Olaf Steinsträter, PhD; Andreas Jansen, PhD; Axel Krug, PhD; Igor Nenadic, MD; Tilo Kircher, MD; Tim Hahn, PhD; Harald Kugel, PhD; Walter Heindel, MD; Jonathan Repple, MD; Udo Dannlowski, MD, PhD

Background: Childhood maltreatment has been associated with reduced hippocampal volume in healthy individuals, whereas social support, a protective factor, has been positively associated with hippocampal volumes. In this study, we investigated how social support is associated with hippocampal volume in healthy people with previous experience of childhood maltreatment.

Methods: We separated a sample of 446 healthy participants into 2 groups using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire: 265 people without maltreatment and 181 people with maltreatment. We measured perceived social support using a short version of the Social Support Questionnaire. We examined hippocampal volume using automated segmentation (Freesurfer). We conducted a social support × group analysis of covariance on hippocampal volumes controlling for age, sex, total intracranial volume, site and verbal intelligence.

Results: Our analysis revealed significantly lower left hippocampal volume in people with maltreatment (left F1,432 = 5.686, p = 0.018; right F1,433 = 3.371, p = 0.07), but no main effect of social support emerged. However, we did find a significant social support × group interaction for left hippocampal volume (left F1,432 = 5.712, p = 0.017; right F1,433 = 3.480, p = 0.06). In people without maltreatment, we observed a trend toward a positive association between social support and hippocampal volume. In contrast, social support was negatively associated with hippocampal volume in people with maltreatment.

Limitations: Because of the correlative nature of our study, we could not infer causal relationships between social support, maltreatment and hippocampal volume.

Conclusion: Our results point to a complex dynamic between environmental risk, protective factors and brain structure — in line with previous evidence — suggesting a detrimental effect of maltreatment on hippocampal development.


*These authors contributed equally to this paper.

Submitted Aug. 14, 2020; Revised Nov. 24, 2020; Accepted Dec. 31, 2020

Acknowledgements: We acknowledge support from the Open Access Publication Fund of the University of Muenster. We acknowledge the contribution to the present work of all current and former members of the DFG FOR 2107 research group.

Affiliations: From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Münster, Münster, Germany (Förster, Danzer, Redlich, Opel, Grotegerd, Leehr, Dohm, Enneking, Meinert, Goltermann, Lemke, Waltemate, Thiel, Behnert, Hahn, Repple, Dannlowski); the Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology, TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany (Förster); the Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Halle, Halle, Germany (Redlich); the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany (Brosch, Stein, Meller, Ringwald, Schmitt, Steinsträter, Jansen, Krug, Nenadic, Kircher); the Core-Unit Brain Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany (Jansen); the Department of Psychiatry, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany (Krug); and the University Clinic for Clinical Radiology, University of Münster, Münster, Germany (Kugel, Heindel).

Funding: This work is part of the German multicenter consortium “Neurobiology of Affective Disorders. A translational perspective on brain structure and function. The present work was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, grant FOR2107 DA1151/5–1 and DA1151/5–2 to UD; SFB-TRR58, Projects C09 and Z02 to UD) and the Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research (IZKF) of the medical faculty of Münster (grant Dan3/012/17 to U. Dannlowski).

Principal investigators with respective areas of responsibility of the FOR2107 consortium that are relevant to this particular article, WP1, FOR2107/MACS cohort and brain imaging: A. Jansen (JA 1890/7–1, JA 1890/7–2), A. Krug (KR 3822/5–1, KR 3822/7–2), I. Nenadic (NE 2254/1–2; NE 2254/3), T. Kircher (speaker FOR2107; DFG grant numbers KI 588/14–1, KI 588/14–2), T. Hahn (HA7070/2–2) and U. Dannlowski (co-speaker FOR2107; DA 1151/5–1, DA 1151/5–2).

Competing interests: None declared.

Contributors: K. Förster, L. Danzer, A. Jansen and U. Dannlowski designed the study. K. Förster, N. Opel, E. Leehr, K. Dohm, V. Enneking, S. Meinert, J. Goltermann, H. Lemke, L. Waltemate, K. Thiel, K. Brosch, F. Stein, T. Meller, K. Ringwald, S. Schmitt, A. Krug, I. Nenadic, H. Kugel and J. Repple acquired the data, which K. Förster, R. Redlich, D. Grotegerd, K. Behnert, O. Steinsträter, T. Kircher, T. Hahn and W. Heindel analyzed. K. Förster, L. Danzer, K. Behnert, O. Steinsträter, T. Kircher and U. Dannlowski wrote the article, which R. Redlich, N. Opel, D. Grotegerd, E. Leehr, K. Dohm, V. Enneking, S. Meinert, J. Goltermann, H. Lemke, L. Waltemate, K. Thiel, K. Brosch, F. Stein, T. Meller, K. Ringwald, S. Schmitt, A. Jansen, A. Krug, I. Nenadic, T. Hahn, H. Kugel, W. Heindel and J. Repple reviewed. All authors approved the final version to be published and can certify that no other individuals not listed as authors have made substantial contributions to the paper.

Content licence: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BYNC-ND 4.0) licence, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided that the original publication is properly cited, the use is non-commercial (i.e. research or educational use), and no modifications or adaptations are made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

DOI: 10.1503/jpn.200162

Correspondence to: U. Dannlowski, Department of Psychiatry, University of Münster, Albert-Schweitzer-Campus 1, G A9, 48149 Münster, Germany; dannlow@uni-muenster.de