MRI findings in posttraumatic stress disorder

J Magn Reson Imaging. 2020 Aug;52(2):380-396. doi: 10.1002/jmri.26929. Epub 2019 Sep 12.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that develops after a person experiences one or more traumatic events, characterized by intrusive recollection, avoidance of trauma-related events, hyperarousal, and negative cognitions and mood. Neurophysiological evidence suggests that the development of PTSD is ascribed to functional abnormalities in fear learning, threat detection, executive function and emotional regulation, and contextual processing. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) plays a primary role in both structural and functional neuroimaging for PTSD, demonstrating focal atrophy of the gray matter, altered fractional anisotropy, and altered focal neural activity and functional connectivity. MRI findings have implicated that brain regions associated with PTSD pathophysiology include the medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, insula, lentiform nucleus, amygdala, hippocampus and parahippocampus, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, cuneus, fusiform and lingual gyri, and the white matter tracts connecting these brain regions. Of these, alterations in the anterior cingulate, amygdala, hippocampus, and insula are highly reproducible across structural and functional MRI, supporting the hypothesis that abnormalities in fear learning and reactions to threat play an important role in the development of PTSD. In addition, most of these structures have been known to belong to one or more intrinsic brain networks regulating autobiographical memory retrieval and self-thought, salience detection and autonomic responses, or attention and emotional control. Altered functional brain networks have been shown in PTSD. Therefore, in PTSD MRI is expected to reflect disequilibrium among functional brain networks, malfunction within an individual network, and impaired brain structures closely interacting with the networks. Level of Evidence: 3 Technical Efficacy Stage: 3 J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2019. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2020;52:380-396.

Keywords: diffusion tensor imaging; posttraumatic stress disorder; resting state functional MRI; spontaneous neural activity; voxel-based morphometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / diagnostic imaging