Background: Patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show a reliable increase in PTSD symptoms and physiological reactivity following exposure to traumatic pictures and sounds. In this study neural correlates of exposure to traumatic pictures and sounds were measured in PTSD.
Methods: Positron emission tomography and H2[15O] were used to measure cerebral blood flow during exposure to combat-related and neutral pictures and sounds in Vietnam combat veterans with and without PTSD.
Results: Exposure to traumatic material in PTSD (but not non-PTSD) subjects resulted in a decrease in blood flow in medial prefrontal cortex (area 25), an area postulated to play a role in emotion through inhibition of amygdala responsiveness. Non-PTSD subjects activated anterior cingulate (area 24) to a greater degree than PTSD patients. There were also differences in cerebral blood flow response in areas involved in memory and visuospatial processing (and by extension response to threat), including posterior cingulate (area 23), precentral (motor) and inferior parietal cortex, and lingual gyrus. There was a pattern of increases in PTSD and decreases in non-PTSD subjects in these areas.
Conclusions: The findings suggest that functional alternations in specific cortical and subcortical brain areas involved in memory, visuospatial processing, and emotion underlie the symptoms of patients with PTSD.