UCSF Logo The hippocampus is a brain region that may be connected to memory and stress. Investigators from the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco assert that chronic PTSD veterans have over six percent smaller hippocampus on an average than those who recovered from the mental condition. Such changes in PTSD patients can supposedly pave way for Alzheimer’s disease by decreasing the brain’s reserve capacity to resist and recover from damage.

As a part of the study, experts followed veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War. While 41 were current PTSD patients, 41 had recovered from the disorder. Scientists examined brain volumes of the veterans by magnetic resonance imaging. It is predicted that the hippocampus gets smaller in PTSD and resumes normal size with recovery or people with smaller hippocampal volumes have less chances of recovering from PTSD.

“We know from animal studies that hippocampal volume can change. If some animals are exposed to stress, their hippocampal volume will shrink and then recover later in the absence of stress. This gives hope that, in people, hippocampal damage in PTSD is reversible once they have recovered,” said Brigitte A. Apfel, MD, a researcher with the mental health service and the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases at SFVAMC.

However, scientists mention that subjects’ brain volumes were measured only once. In order to affirm the study findings, additional investigations can be triggered. It was concluded that since PTSD is linked with dramatic modifications in the brain, it can be termed as a biological disorder.

The study was published in the March 15, 2011 issue of Biological Psychiatry.