The suppression of brain activation in post-deployment military personnel with posttraumatic stress symptoms

Brain Imaging Behav. 2015 Sep;9(3):513-26. doi: 10.1007/s11682-015-9376-6.


Previous research using cognitive paradigms has found task-related activation that includes prefrontal brain structures and that is attenuated in association with posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). The present investigation used a cognitive control paradigm, the Arrows Task, to study subjects who had not sustained a traumatic brain injury during deployment and who had a wide range of scores on the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL). During the Arrows Task there was no significant activation within the full sample of 15 subjects, but deactivation was found within areas that are likely to be involved in cognitive control, including the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus and parietal cortex. Exploratory analyses were also conducted to compare subjects with relatively high PTSS (HIGH PTSS, n = 7) to those with lower severity or no symptoms (LOW PTSS, n = 8). LOW PTSS subjects exhibited activation in nonfrontal brain areas and their activation was greater relative to the HIGH PTSS subjects. In contrast, the HIGH PTSS group had extensive deactivation and there was a negative relationship between activation and PCL scores within subcortical structures, the cerebellum, and higher-order cortical association areas. For the HIGH PTSS group there was also a positive relationship between PCL scores and activation within basic sensory and motor areas, as well as structures thought to have a role in emotion and the regulation of internal bodily states. These findings are consistent with widespread neural dysfunction in subjects with greater PTSS, including changes similar to those reported to occur with acute stress and elevated noradrenergic activity.

Keywords: Cognitive control; Executive function; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Posttraumatic stress disorder.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology