A postmortem assessment of mammillary body volume, neuronal number and densities, and fornix volume in subjects with mood disorders

  • Hans-Gert BernsteinEmail author
  • Melanie Klix
  • Henrik Dobrowolny
  • Ralf Brisch
  • Johann Steiner
  • Hendrik Bielau
  • Tomasz Gos
  • Bernhard Bogerts
Original Paper


Mammillary bodies are relay nuclei within limbic and extralimbic connections. Whereas other subcortical brain structures have been found to be altered in depression, no current information exists regarding the pathomorphology of mammillary bodies in affective disorders. We studied the postmortem brains of 19 human subjects with mood disorders (9 with major depressive disorder and 10 with bipolar I disorder) and 20 control individuals and assessed the mammillary body and fornix volumes, number of neurons and neuronal densities. We found that male control subjects have significantly larger mammillary bodies compared with females. In addition, control subjects of both sexes with the diagnosis/cause of death of “heart failure/insufficiency” had significantly smaller mammillary body volumes compared with non-psychiatric patients who died from other causes. When estimating the mammillary bodies volumes of patients with depression compared with control subjects, a significant reduction of the left mammillary body volume was found in patients with bipolar disorder, but not in patients with major depression. However, significant depression-associated mammillary body volume reductions were found between the control subjects who did not die of heart failure and patients with major depression and bipolar disorder. Moreover, the MB volumes of control subjects who died of heart failure were in the range exhibited by subjects with depression. There was no significant influence of suicidal behavior on mammillary volumes observed. Moreover, no significant group differences in the total neuronal number or neuronal density were found between the controls, subjects with major depression and subjects with bipolar disorder. Furthermore, the fornix volumes were significantly reduced only in the control subjects with heart failure. Taken together, these results show that the mammillary bodies are compromised in depression.


Mammillary bodies Fornix Major depression Bipolar disorder Morphometry 


Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans-Gert Bernstein
    • 1
    Email author
  • Melanie Klix
    • 1
  • Henrik Dobrowolny
    • 1
  • Ralf Brisch
    • 1
  • Johann Steiner
    • 1
  • Hendrik Bielau
    • 1
  • Tomasz Gos
    • 2
  • Bernhard Bogerts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryOtto-von-Guericke-UniversityMagdeburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Forensic MedicineMedical University of GdańskGdańskPoland

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