Additive Gene-Environment Effects on Hippocampal Structure in Healthy Humans
J Neurosci
Rabl U
Meyer BM
Diers K
Bartova L
Berger A
Mandorfer D
Popovic A
Scharinger C
Huemer J
Kalcher K
Pail G
Haslacher H
Perkmann T
Windischberger C
Brocke B
Sitte HH
Pollak DD
Dreher JC
Kasper S
Praschak-Rieder N
Moser E
Esterbauer H
Pezawas L

Hippocampal volume loss has been related to chronic stress as well as genetic factors. Although genetic and environmental variables affecting hippocampal volume have extensively been studied and related to mental illness, limited evidence is available with respect to G X E interactions on hippocampal volume. The present MRI study investigated interaction effects on hippocampal volume between three well-studied functional genetic variants(COMT Val158Met, BDNF Val66Met, 5-HTTLPR) associated with hippocampal volume and a measure of environmental adversity (life events questionnaire) in a large sample of healthy humans (n = 153). All three variants showed significant interactions with environmental adversity with respect to hippocampal volume. Observed effects were additive by nature and driven by both recent as well as early life events. A consecutive analysis of hippocampal subfields revealed a spatially distinct profile for each genetic variant suggesting a specific role of 5-HTTLPR for the subiculum, BDNF Val66Met for CA4/dentate gyrus, and COMT Val158Met for CA2/3 volume changes. The present study underscores the importance of G X E interactions as determinants of hippocampal volume, which is crucial for the neurobiological understanding of stress-related conditions, such as mood disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).