Are the neural substrates of memory the final common pathway in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

J Affect Disord. 2002 Jun;70(1):1-17. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0327(01)00351-2.


A model for the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a disorder of memory is presented drawing both on psychological and neurobiological data. Evidence on intrusive memories and deficits in declarative memory function in PTSD-patients is reviewed in relation to three brain areas that are involved in memory functioning and the stress response: the hippocampus, amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. Neurobiological studies have shown that the noradrenergic stress-system is involved in enhanced encoding of emotional memories, sensitization, and fear conditioning, by way of its effects on the amygdala. Chronic stress also affects the hippocampus, a brain area involved in declarative memories, suggesting that hippocampal dysfunction may partly account for the deficits in declarative memory in PTSD-patients. Deficits in the medial prefrontal cortex, a structure that normally inhibits the amygdala, may further enhance the effects of the amygdala, thereby increasing the frequency and intensity of the traumatic memories. Thus, by way of its influence on these brain structures, exposure to severe stress may simultaneously result in strong emotional reactions and in difficulties to recall the emotional event. This model is also relevant for understanding the distinction between declarative and non-declarative memory-functions in processing trauma-related information in PTSD. Implications of our model are reviewed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Epilepsy, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Epilepsy, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / physiology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Memory Disorders / psychology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Repression, Psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology


  • Hydrocortisone