Shape analysis of the subcortical structures in North Korean refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder

Wooyoung Kang, Younbin Kang, Aram Kim, Woo Suk Tae, Kyeong Jin Kim, Sin Gon Kim, Byung Joo Ham, Kyu Man Han

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Despite the growing number of refugees and their mental health issues, neurobiological mechanisms to explain clinical symptoms resulting from traumatic events, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder (MDD), have not been extensively investigated. Research on the mental health of North Korean refugees (NKRs) who defected to South Korea for resettlement is still at an early stage but commonly reports structural and functional abnormalities in brain regions related to reward and motivational processing. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) and ventral pallidum (VP) are the major sites in subcortical structures that play key roles in reward and motivation. Methods: The present study examined subcortical structural abnormalities of 28 NKRs and age-, sex- matched South Korean Controls (SKCs) using shape analysis at the vertex level. Results: Among the 28 NKRs, 18 had psychiatric disorders, including PTSD and MDD. The NKRs showed significantly reduced volumes in the right NAc and bilateral VP compared to the SKRs. The volume of the right VP showed a significant negative correlation with current PTSD severity in the NKR group. Conclusions: Our findings demonstrated that structural alterations of the NAc and VP may explain PTSD and MDD observed in the refugees and further suggest that the aftereffect of trauma, manifested as anhedonia and anxiety, may show chronically.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111527
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Oct

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the Korea University Anam Hospital , Seoul, Republic of Korea ( K2014081 ), by “Lee Byung-Yoon” Scholarship from the Alumni Association of Neuropsychiatry at Korea University College of Medicine , and by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MSIT) (No. 2022R1A2C4001313 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Major depressive disorder
  • North Korean refugees
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Ventral pallidum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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