WEDNESDAY, March 27, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Early life stress caused by childhood maltreatment can alter brain structure, which may increase the risk for adverse disease courses in patients with major depression, according to a study published in the April issue of The Lancet Psychiatry.

Nils Opel, M.D., from the University of Münster in Germany, and colleagues sought to clarify the relationship between childhood trauma, brain structural alterations, and depression relapse using two-year longitudinal clinical data from 110 patients with major depressive disorder participating in the Münster Neuroimage Cohort. In addition to clinical assessments, data included structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and retrospective assessment of the extent of childhood maltreatment experiences.

The researchers found that 35 patients were relapse-free, while 75 patients experienced depression relapse within the two-year follow-up period. A significant association was seen between childhood maltreatment and depression relapse during follow-up (odds ratio, 1.35). Further, both previous childhood maltreatment experiences and future depression relapse were associated with reduced cortical surface area on MRI exam (odds ratio, 0.996), primarily in the right insula at baseline. The association between maltreatment and future depression relapse was mediated by the insular surface area.

“Clinical and translational research should explore the role of childhood maltreatment as causing a potential clinically and biologically distinct subtype of major depressive disorder,” the authors write.

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