Atypical visual processing in posttraumatic stress disorder

Neuroimage Clin. 2013 Aug 29:3:531-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2013.08.009. eCollection 2013.


Background: Many patients with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) feel overwhelmed in situations with high levels of sensory input, as in crowded situations with complex sensory characteristics. These difficulties might be related to subtle sensory processing deficits similar to those that have been found for sounds in electrophysiological studies.

Method: Visual processing was investigated with functional magnetic resonance imaging in trauma-exposed participants with (N = 18) and without PTSD (N = 21) employing a picture-viewing task.

Results: Activity observed in response to visual scenes was lower in PTSD participants 1) in the ventral stream of the visual system, including striate and extrastriate, inferior temporal, and entorhinal cortices, and 2) in dorsal and ventral attention systems (P < 0.05, FWE-corrected). These effects could not be explained by the emotional salience of the pictures.

Conclusions: Visual processing was substantially altered in PTSD in the ventral visual stream, a component of the visual system thought to be responsible for object property processing. Together with previous reports of subtle auditory deficits in PTSD, these findings provide strong support for potentially important sensory processing deficits, whose origins may be related to dysfunctional attention processes.

Keywords: Dorsal stream; International Affective Picture System; Sensory perception; Ventral stream; Visual system; fMRI.