Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an often debilitating mental illness that is characterized by recurrent distressing memories of traumatic events. PTSD is associated with hypoactivity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), hyperactivity in the amygdala and reduced volume in the hippocampus, but it is unknown whether these neuroimaging findings reflect the underlying cause or a secondary effect of the disorder. To investigate the causal contribution of specific brain areas to PTSD symptoms, we studied a unique sample of Vietnam War veterans who suffered brain injury and emotionally traumatic events. We found a substantially reduced occurrence of PTSD among those individuals with damage to one of two regions of the brain: the vmPFC and an anterior temporal area that included the amygdala. These results suggest that the vmPFC and amygdala are critically involved in the pathogenesis of PTSD.