Suicide and major depression are prevalent in individuals reporting early-life adversity. Prefrontal cortex volume is reduced by stress acutely and progressively, and changes in neuron and glia density are reported in depressed suicide decedents. We previously found reduced neurotrophic factor brain-derived neurotrophic factor in suicide decedents and with early-life adversity, and we sought to determine whether cortex thickness or neuron or glia density in the dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex are associated with early-life adversity or suicide.
A total of 52 brains, constituting 13 quadruplets of nonpsychiatric controls and major depressive disorder suicide decedents with and without early-life adversity, were matched for age, sex, race, and postmortem interval. Brains were collected at autopsy and frozen, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex were later dissected, postfixed, and sectioned. Sections were immunostained for neuron-specific nuclear protein (NeuN) to label neurons and counterstained with thionin to stain glial cell nuclei. Cortex thickness, neuron and glial density, and neuron volume were measured by stereology.
Cortical thickness was 6% less with early-life adversity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and 12% less in anterior cingulate cortex (P < .05), but not in depressed suicide decedents in either region. Neuron density was not different in early-life adversity or with suicide, but glial density was 17% greater with early-life adversity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and 15% greater in anterior cingulate cortex, but not in suicides. Neuron volume was not different with early-life adversity or suicide.
Reported early-life adversity, but not the stress associated with suicide, is associated with thinner prefrontal cortex and greater glia density in adulthood. Early-life adversity may alter normal neurodevelopment and contribute to suicide risk.