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Hippocampal to Pituitary Volume Ratio: A Specific Measure of Reciprocal Neuroendocrine Alterations in Alcohol Dependence
Thomas Beresford, David Arciniegas, Donald Rojas, Jeanelle Sheeder, Peter Teale, Robert Aasal, Elliot Sandberg, Martin Reite
Objective: Studies to date provide conflicting views of the relationship between corticosteroids and decreased hippocampal volume in alcoholism. If this were mediated through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, enlarged pituitary volumes relative to hippocampal volumes might be expected and be measurable using the hippocampus to pituitary volume (H:P) ratio. Method: Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we performed volumetric analysis of the pituitary and hippocampus on 10 subjects with alcohol dependence (AD) and on 10 normal control subjects. Results: Compared to normal controls, AD subjects demonstrated a trend towards decreased hippocampal volume (p < .06) and increased pituitary volume (p < .07). More importantly, H:P ratios were significantly smaller in AD subjects (p < .01). This observation persisted even when covaried for age. Conclusions: Reduced H:P ratio fits the hypothesis that ethanol stimulates pituitary corticotrophs resulting in elevated corticosteroid levels and possible injury to the hippocampus. If replicated, reduced H:P ratio may serve as a clinical measure of reciprocal neuroendocrine changes in chronic heavy ethanol use. (J. Stud. Alcohol 60: 586-588, 1999)