History of Maternal Depression May Correlate with Hippocampal Volume in their Children

Yukta Kulkarni ’22

Figure 1: Children have a higher risk of developing depression or depressive symptoms if their parents suffered from the mental disorder in the past.

Depression is defined as a mental disorder in which a person has consistent feelings of sadness and a severe loss of interest. Affecting all age groups, parents can be inflicted with depression or depression-like symptoms. Previous studies have found that children of parents suffering from depression have an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders during their lifetimes. However, the process of how the risk is transmitted is not as extensively researched, aside from the few studies done determining the correlations of depression and the hippocampus, a region in the brain thought to have a role in memory. Since the hippocampus has also been implicated in the pathophysiology of depression, it may be possible to determine the risk of offspring developing the disorder by comparing hippocampal subregion volumes. Samantha Hubachek and their team of researchers hypothesized that mothers with a history of depression may have children in preadolescence with reductions in their hippocampal subregions and that this reduction is associated with depressive symptoms. 

To test their hypothesis, the researchers gathered 33 mothers who have a history of depression and 41 who do not, along with a combined total of 74 preadolescent offspring. When the children were 3 and 9 years old, their mothers participated in a diagnostic assessment, Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and the children participated in the Kiddie-Schedule of Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia-Present and Lifetime assessment. They further completed the Child Depression Inventory when 9 and 12 years old, as well as an MRI assessment of their hippocampus. It was found that the children with smaller bilateral hippocampal head volumes were associated with both maternal depression and increased depressive symptoms of their own. Additionally, a climb in depressive symptoms from the ages of 9 to 12 was associated with smaller right hippocampal head volumes.

Though these findings are strictly associations and size may not directly correlate with depression in mothers or children, the results may be useful in predictions, treatment, and maintenance of mental health. If multiple risks are exhibited by toddlers, preventative measures for improving mental health may be implemented. However, there were limitations to the study as it had a relatively small sample size and the MRI assessment only took place once. Future research in which higher sample size and increased neuroimaging take place should be conducted to support the findings of the study. 


[1] S. Hubachek, et al., Hippocampal subregion volume in high-risk offspring is associated with increases in depressive symptoms across the transition to adolescence. Journal of affective disorders 281, 358-366 (2021). Doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.12.017

[2] Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/photos/girl-walking-teddy-bear-child-walk-447701/


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