Activity In Two Brain Regions After A Trauma May Predict PTSD Onset

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Activity in two brain regions related to emotional regulation may predict whether someone develops posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A recent study by Georgia’s Emory University, Harvard Medical School, and McLean Hospital in Massachusetts found that, shortly after a trauma, activity in the brain’s amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was associated with an onset of PTSD symptoms within a year.

“This study introduces a new potential biomarker of PTSD, highlighting new roles for neuroimaging in PTSD research,” says Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry.

“The search for such early biological markers of poor recovery is very important, because it will allow us to find the people who are most at risk right after a trauma, and intervene early, before the onset of disorders such as PTSD or depression,” adds researcher Dr. Jennifer Stevens, of Emory University.

For this study, MRI scans were given to 31 individuals a month after experiencing a nonmilitary traumatic event, such as sexual assault, or a car accident. Study participants viewed images of threatening faces as brain activity in their amygdala and ACC was measured, including activity changes that occurred with repeated viewing. Also, self-reported PTSD symptoms were recorded at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months, post-trauma.

Analysis of the study data showed those with the strongest amygdala reaction to the threatening faces had more PTSD symptom intensity initially, and were more likely to experience symptoms over the next 12 months. Further, participants who had sharper declines in ACC activity after habituation (repeatedly seeing the fearful images) had poorer courses of recovery.

These results suggest that heightened amygdala activity and ACC habituation to a threat, shortly after a trauma, are predictive for the onset of PTSD symptoms. “The findings also suggest that an over-active amygdala may be one of the causes of PTSD, and that we should try to develop treatments that reduce amygdala reactivity,” said Stevens.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Firesam!

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