Background: Disturbances in sensory processing have been hypothesized in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The authors investigated this possibility by using mismatch negativity (MMN), an event-related potential (ERP) that reflects the operation of a preconscious cortical detector of stimulus change.
Methods: Thirteen medication-free women with sexual assault-related PTSD were compared with 16 age-matched, healthy comparison women without PTSD. ERPs were elicited by regularly presented "standard" auditory stimuli and by infrequently occurring "deviant" auditory stimuli, which differed slightly in frequency. The MMN was identified in the subtraction waveforms as the difference between ERPs elicited by the deviant and standard stimuli. Group comparisons of P50, N1, P2, and N2 to the standard and to the deviant stimuli, and of the MMN in the subtraction waveform were performed.
Results: The amplitude of the MMN was significantly greater in the PTSD compared to the non-PTSD women. MMN was significantly correlated with the total Mississippi PTSD Symptom Scale score in the PTSD group. No significant group differences were noted in P50, N1, or P2 responding. Significant group differences in N2 were due to the increased MMN in PTSD subjects.
Conclusions: The data provide evidence for abnormalities in preconscious auditory sensory memory in PTSD, whereas earlier studies have reported abnormalities in conscious processing. These data suggest an increased sensitivity to stimulus changes in PTSD and implicate the auditory cortex in the pathophysiology of the disorder.