The association between hippocampal volume and life events in healthy twins

Florian Bootsman*, Sanne M. Kemner, Manon H J Hillegers, Rachel M. Brouwer, Ronald Vonk, Astrid C. van der Schot, Hilleke E. Hulshoff Pol, Willem A. Nolen, René S. Kahn, Neeltje E M van Haren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Hippocampal volume deficits have been linked to life stress. However, the degree to which genes and environment influence the association between hippocampal volume and life events is largely unknown. In total, 123 healthy twins from monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and 57 healthy twins were interviewed with the Life Events and Difficulties Schedule (LEDS), with an overlap of 54 twins undergoing both MRI and the life events interview. Hippocampal volumes were segmented with Freesurfer software. Data were analyzed with OpenMx software. Smaller hippocampal volume was associated with higher severe life event load (rph= −0.39), where shared environmental factors influencing both measures fully explained the association. Hippocampal volume was not associated with total or mild life event load. Hippocampal volume showed high heritability (range, h2: 57%–81%) whereas life event measures were influenced by shared (c2) and unique (e2) environmental factors only (range, c2:40%–64%, e2: 36%–60%). The results suggested that shared environmental factors influenced the relationship between smaller hippocampal volume and severe (but not mild) stress. This indicated that particularly severe life events that were shared between twins were associated with smaller hippocampal volume. Furthermore, it is suggested to distinguish between mild and severe life events in life event research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1088-1095
Number of pages8
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • heritability
  • hippocampus
  • life stress
  • shared environment
  • twin study


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