Abnormal recruitment of working memory updating networks during maintenance of trauma-neutral information in post-traumatic stress disorder

Psychiatry Res. 2008 Jul 15;163(2):156-70. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2007.08.011. Epub 2008 May 1.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterised by disturbances in concentration and memory, symptoms which are a source of further distress for patients. Related to this, abnormalities in underlying working memory (WM) systems have been identified [Clark, C.R., McFarlane, A.C., Morris, P., Weber, D.L., Sonkkilla, C., Shaw, M.E., Marcina, J., Tochon-Danguy, H.J., Egan, G.F., 2003. Cerebral function in posttraumatic stress disorder during verbal working memory updating: a positron emission tomography study. Biological Psychiatry 53, 474-481.], indicating dysfunction in left hemisphere brain regions. In this study, we performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 13 patients with severe PTSD and matched non-traumatized Controls, during performance of visuo-verbal tasks that involved either maintenance or continual updating of word stimuli in WM. The PTSD group failed to show differential activation during WM updating, and instead appeared to show abnormal recruitment of WM updating network regions during WM maintenance. These regions included the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the inferior parietal lobe (IPL). Several other regions were significantly more activated in Controls than in PTSD during WM updating, including the hippocampus, the anterior cingulate (AC), and the brainstem pons, key regions that are consistently implicated in the neurobiology of PTSD. These findings suggest compensatory recruitment of networks in PTSD normally only deployed during updating of WM and may reflect PTSD patients' difficulty engaging with their day-to-day environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Pons / physiopathology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological / physiology
  • Semantics
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*