The neural correlates of trauma-related autobiographical memory in posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analysis

Depress Anxiety. 2020 Apr;37(4):321-345. doi: 10.1002/da.22977. Epub 2019 Dec 9.


Background: Autobiographical memory (AM) refers to memories of events that are personally relevant and are remembered from one's own past. The AM network is a distributed brain network comprised largely by prefrontal medial and posteromedial cortical brain regions, which together facilitate AM. Autobiographical memories with high arousal and negatively valenced emotional states are thought to be retrieved more readily and re-experienced more vividly. This is critical in the case of trauma-related AMs, which are related to altered phenomenological experiences as well as aberrations to the underlying neural systems in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Critically, these alterations to the AM network have not been explored recently and have never been analyzed with consideration to the different processes of AM, them being retrieval and re-experiencing.

Methods: We conducted a series of effect-size signed differential mapping meta-analyses across twenty-eight studies investigating the neural correlates of trauma-related AMs in participants with PTSD as compared with controls. Studies included either trauma-related scripts or trauma-related materials (i.e., sounds, images, pictures) implemented to evoke the recollection of a trauma-related memory.

Results: The meta-analyses revealed that control and PTSD participants displayed greater common brain activation of prefrontal medial and posteromedial cortices, respectively. Whereby the prefrontal medial cortices are suggested to facilitate retrieval monitoring, the posteromedial cortices are thought to enable the visual imagery processes of AM.

Conclusions: Taken together, reduced common activation of prefrontal cortices may be interpreted as a bias toward greater re-experiencing, where the more salient elements of the traumatic memory are relived as opposed to retrieved in a controlled manner in PTSD.

Keywords: autobiographical memory; autobiographical memory network; functional magnetic resonance imaging; meta-analysis; posttraumatic stress disorder; trauma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic*