Right temporal cortical hypertrophy in resilience to trauma: an MRI study

Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2016 Jul 28;7:31314. doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v7.31314. eCollection 2016.


Background: In studies employing physiological measures such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), it is often hard to distinguish what constitutes risk-resilience factors to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following trauma exposure and what the effects of trauma exposure and PTSD are.

Objective: We aimed to investigate whether there were observable morphological differences in cortical and sub-cortical regions of the brain, 7-8 years after a single potentially traumatic event.

Methods: Twenty-four participants, who all directly experienced the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and 25 controls, underwent structural MRI using a 3T scanner. We generated cortical thickness maps and parcellated sub-cortical volumes for analysis.

Results: We observed greater cortical thickness for the trauma-exposed participants relative to controls, in a right lateralized temporal lobe region including anterior fusiform gyrus, and superior, middle, and inferior temporal gyrus.

Conclusions: We observed greater thickness in the right temporal lobe which might indicate that the region could be implicated in resilience to the long-term effects of a traumatic event. We hypothesize this is due to altered emotional semantic memory processing. However, several methodological and confounding issues warrant caution in interpretation of the results.

Keywords: MRI; PTSD; Psychotraumatology; natural disaster; psychological distress; traumatic event.