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Pituitary gland volume in adolescent and young adult bipolar and unipolar depression


  • The authors of this paper do not have any commercial associations that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with this manuscript.

Frank P MacMaster, MSc, Wayne State University, Psychiatry 9B, 4201 St Antoine Boulevard, Detroit, MI 48201, USA. Fax: +1 313 577 5900; e-mail:


Objectives:  Few studies have examined pituitary gland size in mood disorders, particularly in adolescents. We hypothesized increase in the pituitary gland size in early-onset mood disorders.

Methods:  Thirty subjects between the ages of 13 and 20 years participated in the study. Three groups (control, bipolar I depression and unipolar depression) of 10 subjects each (4 male, 6 female) underwent volumetric magnetic resonance imaging at 1.5 T.

Results:  Analysis of covariance (covarying for age, sex and intracranial volume) revealed a significant difference in pituitary gland volume amongst the groups [F(2,24) = 7.092, p = 0.014]. Post hoc analysis revealed that controls had a significantly smaller pituitary gland volume than both bipolar patients (p = 0.019) and depressed patients (p = 0.049). Bipolar and depressed subjects did not differ significantly from each other with regard to pituitary gland volume (p = 0.653). Control females had larger pituitary glands than control males [F(1,8) = 10.523, p = 0.012], but no sex differences were noted in the mood disorder groups.

Conclusions:  Pituitary glands are enlarged in adolescents with mood disorders compared to controls. Healthy young females have larger pituitary glands than males, but such a difference is not evident in individuals with unipolar depression or bipolar disorder. These findings provide new evidence of abnormalities of the pituitary in early onset mood disorders, and are consistent with neuroendocrine dysfunction in early stages of such illnesses.