Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Cognitive PTSD Changes Are Evident on fMRI: Study of American Soldiers Provides Early Evidence of Disorder's Specific Neuroanatomy Biomarkers

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Cognitive PTSD Changes Are Evident on fMRI: Study of American Soldiers Provides Early Evidence of Disorder's Specific Neuroanatomy Biomarkers

Article excerpt

Specific neural signatures of posttraumatic stress disorder in cognitive as well as emotional brain centers have been identified on imaging studies of recently returned veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a finding that might advance efforts to objectively diagnose people with the disorder.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of 22 American soldiers diagnosed with PTSD demonstrated heightened activity in three regions of the brain during a working memory task, compared with 20 soldiers exposed to similar combat situations who did not develop PTSD, reported Florin Dolcos, Ph.D., who is affiliated with the University of Alberta, Edmonton.

The study, presented at the World Psychiatry Association International Congress in Florence, Italy, provides early evidence of specific functional neuroanatomy biomarkers of PTSD in conjunction with a working memory task.

During fMRI, soldiers were shown photographs of three faces and later asked whether another photograph was one of the three they had previously seen. However, during a delay period before the cognitive memory challenge, subjects were shown random images of combat or noncombat (neutral) scenes. The noncombat images showed such images as a man playing a trombone.

The investigators hypothesized that soldiers with PTSD might process cognitive information differently when distracted by a combat image.

Indeed, activation of three specific brain regions distinguished participant meeting PTSD criteria and those who did not, said lead investigator Dr. Rajendra A. Morey, a Duke University psychiatrist and director of the Neuroimaging Core at the Durham (N.C.) VA Medical Center. Among the investigators' specific findings:

* As expected from previous imaging studies, soldiers with PTSD reacted to combat photos with significantly elevated activation in emotion processing centers of the brain, including the amygdala (P less than .05), fusiform gyrus (P less than .005), and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (Pless than .001), compared with soldiers without PTSD.

* In the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, a region associated with an individual's sense of self and self-reflection, soldiers with PTSD exhibited significantly higher brain activity (P less than . …

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