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Structural brain changes with lifetime trauma and re-experiencing symptoms is 5-HTTLPR genotype-dependent

  • Ancelin, Marie-Laure1
  • Carriere, Isabelle1
  • Artero, Sylvaine1
  • Maller, Jerome J2, 3, 4
  • Meslin, Chantal3
  • Dupuy, Anne-Marie1, 5
  • Ritchie, Karen1, 6
  • Ryan, Joanne1, 7
  • Chaudieu, Isabelle1
  • 1 Neuropsychiatry: Epidemiological and Clinical Research, INSERM, University of Montpellier, France , (France)
  • 2 Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, Central Clinical School, Monash University and the Alfred Hospital, Australia , (Australia)
  • 3 Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Australia , (Australia)
  • 4 General Electric Healthcare, Australia , (Australia)
  • 5 Department of Biochemestry and Hormonology, Lapeyronie University Hospital, France , (France)
  • 6 Center for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • 7 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Australia , (Australia)
Published Article
European Journal of Psychotraumatology
Taylor & Francis
Publication Date
Mar 04, 2020
DOI: 10.1080/20008198.2020.1733247
PMID: 32194924
PMCID: PMC7067154
PubMed Central


Background : Findings on structural brain alterations following trauma are inconsistent due probably to heterogeneity in imaging studies and population, clinical presentations, genetic vulnerability, and selection of controls. This study examines whether trauma and re-experiencing symptoms are associated with specific alterations in grey matter volumes and if this varies according to 5-HTTLPR genotype. Methods : Structural MRI was used to acquire anatomical scans from 377 community-dwelling older adults. Quantitative regional estimates of 22 subregional volumes were derived using FreeSurfer software. Lifetime trauma was assessed using the validated Watson’s PTSD inventory, which evaluates the most severe trauma experienced according to DSM criteria. Analyses adjusted for age, sex, total brain volume, head injury, and comorbidities. Results : Of the 212 participants reporting lifetime trauma, 35.4% reported re-experiencing symptoms and for 1.9%, this was severe enough to meet criteria for full threshold PTSD. In participants with the SS 5-HTTLPR genotype only, re-experiencing symptoms were associated with smaller volumes in middle and superior temporal, frontal (lateral orbital, rostral and caudal middle) and parietal (precuneus, inferior and superior) regions. The trauma-exposed participants without re-experiencing symptoms were not significantly different from the non-trauma-exposed participants except for smaller precuneus and superior parietal region in traumatized participants and a larger amygdala in traumatized women specifically. Conclusions : In the non-clinical sample, lifetime trauma and re-experiencing symptoms were associated with smaller volume in prefrontal, temporal and parietal cortex subregions, and this varied according to serotonergic genetic vulnerability, 5-HTTLPR SS individuals being most susceptible.

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