Neural correlates of declarative memory for emotionally valenced words in women with posttraumatic stress disorder related to early childhood sexual abuse

Biol Psychiatry. 2003 May 15;53(10):879-89. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(02)01891-7.


Background: Animal studies have shown that early stressors result in lasting changes in structure and function of brain areas involved in memory, including hippocampus and frontal cortex. Patients with childhood abuse-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have alterations in both declarative and nondeclarative memory function, and imaging studies in PTSD have demonstrated changes in function during stimulation of trauma-specific memories in hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex, and cingulate. The purpose of this study was to assess neural correlates of emotionally valenced declarative memory in women with early childhood sexual abuse and PTSD.

Methods: Women with early childhood sexual abuse-related PTSD (n = 10) and women without abuse or PTSD (n = 11) underwent positron emission tomographic (PET) measurement of cerebral blood flow during a control condition and during retrieval of neutral (e.g., "metal-iron") and emotionally valenced (e.g., "rape-mutilate") word pairs.

Results: During retrieval of emotionally valenced word pairs, PTSD patients showed greater decreases in blood flow in an extensive area, which included orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, and medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's areas 25, 32, 9), left hippocampus, and fusiform gyrus/inferior temporal gyrus, with increased activation in posterior cingulate, left inferior parietal cortex, left middle frontal gyrus, and visual association and motor cortex. There were no differences in patterns of brain activation during retrieval of neutral word pairs between patients and control subjects.

Conclusions: These findings are consistent with dysfunction of specific brain areas involved in memory and emotion in PTSD. Regions implicated in this study of emotionally valenced declarative memory are similar to those from prior imaging studies in PTSD using trauma-specific stimuli for symptom provocation, adding further supportive evidence for a dysfunctional network of brain areas involved in memory, including hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex, and cingulate, in PTSD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual* / psychology
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Reading
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed