Trauma, PTSD, and the Developing Brain

Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Aug 19;19(10):69. doi: 10.1007/s11920-017-0825-3.


Purpose of review: PTSD in youth is common and debilitating. In contrast to adult PTSD, relatively little is known about the neurobiology of pediatric PTSD, nor how neurodevelopment may be altered. This review summarizes recent neuroimaging studies in pediatric PTSD and discusses implications for future study.

Recent findings: Pediatric PTSD is characterized by abnormal structure and function in neural circuitry supporting threat processing and emotion regulation. Furthermore, cross-sectional studies suggest that youth with PTSD have abnormal frontolimbic development compared to typically developing youth. Examples include declining hippocampal volume, increasing amygdala reactivity, and declining amygdala-prefrontal coupling with age. Pediatric PTSD is characterized by both overt and developmental abnormalities in frontolimbic circuitry. Notably, abnormal frontolimbic development may contribute to increasing threat reactivity and weaker emotion regulation as youth age. Longitudinal studies of pediatric PTSD are needed to characterize individual outcomes and determine whether current treatments are capable of restoring healthy neurodevelopment.

Keywords: Adolescents; Children; Neurodevelopment; Neuroimaging; PTSD; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnostic imaging
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / pathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology