History of childhood maltreatment augments dorsolateral prefrontal processing of emotional valence in PTSD

J Psychiatr Res. 2016 Mar;74:45-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.12.015. Epub 2015 Dec 19.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by conflicting findings of both increased and decreased amygdala and prefrontal reactivity to threat or trauma stimuli. Childhood maltreatment (CM), a potent risk factor for PTSD, exerts long-lasting influences on threat processing and prefrontal-amygdala function. This suggests that CM history may influence PTSD neural phenotypes related to threat processing. Here, we adapt a well-characterized emotional conflict paradigm to investigate CM effects on both emotional conflict and emotional valence processing within PTSD stratified by task relevance. Forty-two individuals with PTSD (22 reporting extensive CM history (PTSD-CM)) and 20 trauma-exposed healthy controls (TEHCs) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while identifying affect of emotional faces (fear and happy) overlaid with a goal-irrelevant emotional distractor word ("FEAR" or "HAPPY"). We examined effects of CM on conflict, conflict adaptation, valence-related activation (fear vs. happy) for goal-relevant (face) and goal-irrelevant stimuli (word), and valence effects in interaction with goal-relevancy (face vs. word). Though no activation differences between groups were observed for conflict contrasts nor for valence effects in the amygdala, CM status interacted with valence processing differences as a function of goal relevance in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). Here, PTSD-CM displayed greater activation relative to PTSD to negative valence when stimuli were goal-irrelevant. CM history also moderated relationships between activation abnormalities and PTSD re-experiencing symptoms. These findings provide initial evidence that CM history augments dorsolateral prefrontal bias to implicitly processed stimulus valence in PTSD.

Keywords: Childhood maltreatment; PTSD; Valence; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*