Prolonged disruption of sleep in animal studies is associated with decreased neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus. Our objective was to determine if insomnia severity in a sample of PTSD and controls was associated with decreased volume in the CA3/dentate hippocampal subfield.
Volumes of hippocampal subfields in seventeen veteran males positive for PTSD (41 ±12 years) and nineteen age-matched male veterans negative for PTSD were measured using 4 Tesla MRI. Subjective sleep quality was measured by the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).
Higher scores on the ISI, indicating worse insomnia, were associated with smaller volumes of the CA3/dentate subfields (r= −.48, p < 0.01) in the combined sample. Adding the ISI score as a predictor for CA3/dentate volume to a hierarchical linear regression model after first controlling for age and PTSD symptoms accounted for a 13 % increase in incremental variance (t= −2.47, p= 0.02).
The findings indicate for the first time in humans that insomnia severity is associated with volume loss of the CA3/dentate subfields. This is consistent with animal studies showing that chronic sleep disruption is associated with decreased neurogenesis and dendritic branching in these structures.
Keywords: sleep, hippocampus, magnetic resonance imaging, neurogenesis, dentate gyrus, posttraumatic stress disorder