Post-traumatic stress influences the brain even in the absence of symptoms: A systematic, quantitative meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Sep:56:207-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.07.007. Epub 2015 Jul 17.


Stress affects brain function, and may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Considerable empirical data for the neurobiology of PTSD has been derived from neuroimaging studies, although findings have proven inconsistent. We used an activation likelihood estimation analysis to explore differences in brain activity between adults with and without PTSD in response to affective stimuli. We separated studies by type of control group: trauma-exposed and trauma-naïve. This revealed distinct patterns of differences in functional activity. Compared to trauma-exposed controls, regions of the basal ganglia were differentially active in PTSD; whereas the comparison with trauma-naïve controls revealed differential involvement in the right anterior insula, precuneus, cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices known to be involved in emotional regulation. Changes in activity in the amygdala and parahippocampal cortex distinguished PTSD from both control groups. Results suggest that trauma has a measurable, enduring effect upon the functional dynamics of the brain, even in individuals who experience trauma but do not develop PTSD. These findings contribute to the understanding of whole-brain network activity following trauma, and its transition to clinical PTSD.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Basal ganglia; Meta-analysis; Neuroimaging; OFC; PTSD; Precuneus; Trauma; Whole-brain network activity; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / pathology*