Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Changes Kids Brains: Stanford Study
> 3/5/2007 11:22:45 AM

By examining a small cohort of children suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers from Stanford University were able to show that extreme stress and PTSD effected changes in the hippocampus area of children's brains. Although the study, published in the March issue of Pediatrics, makes clear that it only provides preliminary evidence of the connection, the researchers state that their work links stress, as well as cortisol levels, with hippocampal reduction, an outcome that they describe as being part of a vicious cycle of damage.

The University's press release regarding the study points out:

It is significant that the change in the hippocampal volume corresponds to both PTSD symptom severity and increased cortisol levels. Cortisol belongs to a class of human hormones known as glucocorticoids that have been shown to kill hippocampal cells in animals. In a vicious cycle, a reduction in hippocampal size can make it more difficult for a child to process and deal with traumatic events, which in turn may raise both stress and cortisol levels that cause even more damage.

These changes in brain physiology, in fact, may make treatment for the children's PTSD even more difficult, as the hippocampus plays a major role in processing and creating new memories as well as regulating emotions. Newer research will focus on using functional MRI and other imaging options to identify how these changes effect the brain as it processes information and performs cognitive and emotional tasks. Researchers hope that by drawing more comprehensive and complete conclusions, they will be better prepared to help children and adults deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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