Veterans with PTSD demonstrate amygdala hyperactivity while viewing threatening faces: A MEG study

Biol Psychol. 2018 Feb;132:228-232. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.01.005. Epub 2018 Jan 5.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a major psychiatric disorder that is prevalent in combat veterans. Previous neuroimaging studies have found elevated amygdala activity in PTSD in response to threatening stimuli, but previous work has lacked the temporal specificity to study fast bottom-up fear responses involving the amygdala. Forty-four combat veterans, 28 with PTSD and 16 without, completed psychological testing and then a face-processing task during magnetoencephalography (MEG). The resulting MEG data were pre-processed, transformed into the time-frequency domain, and then imaged using a beamforming approach. We found that veterans with PTSD exhibited significantly stronger oscillatory activity from 50 to 450 ms in the left amygdala compared to veterans without PTSD while processing threatening faces. This group difference was not present while viewing neutral faces. The current study shows that amygdala hyperactivity in response to threatening cues begins quickly in PTSD, which makes theoretical sense as an adaptive bottom-up fear response.

Keywords: Bottom-up; Fear; Magnetoencephalography; Military; Oscillatory activity; Posttraumatic stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Cues
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography / methods*
  • Male
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnostic imaging
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Veterans / psychology*