Objective: Given the high prevalence and comorbidity of combat-related PTSD and TBI in Veterans, it is often difficult to disentangle the contributions of each disorder. Examining these pathologies separately may help to understand the neurobiological basis of memory impairment in PTSD and TBI independently of each other. Thus, we investigated whether a) PTSD and TBI are characterized by subcortical structural abnormalities by examining diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) metrics and volume and b) if these abnormalities were specific to PTSD versus TBI.
Method: We investigated whether individuals with PTSD or TBI display subcortical structural abnormalities in memory regions by examining DTI metrics and volume of the hippocampus and caudate in three groups of Veterans: Veterans with PTSD, Veterans with TBI, and Veterans with neither PTSD nor TBI (Veteran controls).
Results: While our results demonstrated no macrostructural differences among the groups in these regions, there were significant alterations in microstructural DTI indices in the caudate for the PTSD group but not the TBI group compared to Veteran controls.
Conclusions: The result of increased mean, radial, and axial diffusivity, and decreased fractional anisotropy in the caudate in absence of significant volume atrophy in the PTSD group suggests the presence of subtle abnormalities evident only at a microstructural level. The caudate is thought to play a role in the physiopathology of PTSD, and the habit-like behavioral features of the disorder could be due to striatal-dependent habit learning mechanisms. Thus, DTI appears to be a vital tool to investigate subcortical pathology, greatly enhancing the ability to detect subtle brain changes in complex disorders.