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

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Katharina Förster - , Chair of Clinical Psychology an Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Münster (Joint first author)
  • L Danzer - (Joint first author)
  • R Redlich - (Author)
  • N Opel - (Author)
  • D Grotegerd - (Author)
  • EJ Leehr - (Author)
  • K Dohm - (Author)
  • V Enneking - (Author)
  • S Meinert - (Author)
  • J Goltermann - (Author)
  • H Lemke - (Author)
  • L Waltemate - (Author)
  • K Thiel - (Author)
  • K Behnert - (Author)
  • K. Brosch - (Author)
  • F Stein - (Author)
  • T Meller - (Author)
  • K Ringwald - (Author)
  • S Schmitt - (Author)
  • O Steinsträter - (Author)
  • A Jansen - (Author)
  • A Krug - (Author)
  • I Nenadic - (Author)
  • T Kircher - (Author)
  • T Hahn - (Author)
  • H Kugel - (Author)
  • W Heindel - (Author)
  • J Repple - (Author)
  • U Dannlowski - , University of Münster (Author)


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


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E328-E336
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

External IDs

PubMed 33904668
Scopus 85105836284


Library keywords