Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) modulates hippocampal plasticity, which is believed to be altered in patients with major depression.
To examine the effect of the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism on hippocampal and amygdala volumes in patients with major depression and in healthy control subjects.
Cross-sectional comparison between patients and controls.
Inpatients with major depression from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy and healthy controls from the community were recruited.
The study population of 120 subjects included 60 patients with major depression and 60 healthy controls.
Main Outcome Measures
Using a combined strategy, hippocampal and amygdala volumes were estimated on high-resolution magnetic resonance images, and genotyping was performed for the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism.
Patients had significantly smaller hippocampal volumes compared with controls (P = .02). Significantly smaller hippocampal volumes were observed for patients and for controls carrying the Met-BDNF allele compared with subjects homozygous for the Val-BDNF allele (P = .006). With respect to amygdala volumes, no significant differences between patients and controls and no significant main effects for the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism were observed.
These genotype-related alterations suggest that Met-BDNF allele carriers might be at risk to develop smaller hippocampal volumes and may be susceptible to major depression. This study supports findings from animal studies that the hippocampus is involved in brain development and plasticity.