Context: Theoretical neuroanatomic models of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the results of previous neuroimaging studies of PTSD highlight the potential importance of the amygdala and medial prefrontal regions in this disorder. However, the functional relationship between these brain regions in PTSD has not been directly examined.
Objective: To examine the relationship between the amygdala and medial prefrontal regions during symptom provocation in male combat veterans (MCVs) and female nurse veterans (FNVs) with PTSD.
Design: Case-control study.
Setting: Academic medical center.
Participants: Volunteer sample of 17 (7 men and 10 women) Vietnam veterans with PTSD (PTSD group) and 19 (9 men and 10 women) Vietnam veterans without PTSD (control group).
Main outcome measures: We used positron emission tomography and the script-driven imagery paradigm to study regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) during the recollection of personal traumatic and neutral events. Psychophysiologic and emotional self-report data also were obtained to confirm the intended effects of script-driven imagery.
Results: The PTSD group exhibited rCBF decreases in medial frontal gyrus in the traumatic vs neutral comparison. When this comparison was conducted separately by subgroup, MCVs and FNVs with PTSD exhibited these medial frontal gyrus decreases. Only MCVs exhibited rCBF increases in the left amygdala. However, for both subgroups with PTSD, rCBF changes in medial frontal gyrus were inversely correlated with rCBF changes in the left amygdala and the right amygdala/periamygdaloid cortex. Furthermore, in the traumatic condition, for both subgroups with PTSD, symptom severity was positively related to rCBF in the right amygdala and negatively related to rCBF in medial frontal gyrus.
Conclusions: These results suggest a reciprocal relationship between medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala function in PTSD and opposing associations between activity in these regions and symptom severity consistent with current functional neuroanatomic models of this disorder.