New Study Examines Relationship between Hippocampus and Depression

For many years, studies have shown that the hippocampus region of the brain is smaller in people with depression than in those people without any symptoms of depression. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that directly impacts how we process life situations, memory and learning, as well as the ability to understand spatial contexts. Previous studies that examined the hippocampus with relation to depression only looked at the brains of people after they were already diagnosed with depression. But a new study sought to determine if the reduced hippocampus was a result of the depression, or if a smaller hippocampus was a risk factor for developing the symptoms of depression. The researchers chose to examine a large body of test subjects, selecting elderly people for their participants, and examined them over a period of 10 years. They evaluated the subjects at the onset of the study to determine the baseline measurement of the hippocampus. The researchers followed up with the subjects 5 and 10 years later and conducted additional brain scans at each marker. At the onset, and again at the middle and conclusion of the study, the researchers also assessed the subjects for any symptoms of depression or presence of depressive conditions.

Dr. Tom den Heijer, corresponding author of the study, explains the results. “We found that persons with smaller hippocampus were not at a higher risk to develop depression. In contrast, those with depression declined in volume over time. Our study therefore suggests that a small hippocampal volume in depressed patients is more likely an effect of the depression rather than a cause.”

John Krystal, editor of the journal that published the study, Biological Psychiatry, said, “The principal importance of this type of research is that it may provide insight into age-related impairments in the function of the hippocampus.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kellie


    July 26th, 2011 at 4:26 AM

    This is so important to the study to develop better treatment and diagnosis for those suffering with depression. Great advances are always being made but the general public does not always have the chance to hear about those. Thanks for sharing the imformation.



    July 26th, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    THis find is definitely going to help coz they may now be able to know the severity of depression just by doing a brain scan now! Its wonderful how our biology and psychology is related and things like these just bring out those facts.

  • bellic n bellic

    bellic n bellic

    July 26th, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    so depression actually results in reduction of the size of the hippocampus.okay. but does that not mean the depressed person is losing brain cells? which I believe is a very serious thing?! and almost all of us face depression at some point. does it have any bearing on our productivity or any other thing?

  • Jaqueline


    July 26th, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    @bellic n bellic:Interesting thought there. Even I would like to know the answer to this from an expert here.

    On topic:Its good that we have proof of this. We can expect the treatments and medicines to be far more effective because they now know how it all works.

  • Maddie


    July 27th, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    targeted treatments are certainly going to help be more effective- if we know the regions of the brain that also suffer then maybe the medical treatments of depression can be better honed to more quickly help them heal

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