Neural correlates of emotional reactivity and regulation associated with treatment response in a randomized clinical trial for posttraumatic stress disorder

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2020 May 30:299:111062. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2020.111062. Epub 2020 Mar 5.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition often associated with difficulty in emotion regulation, including reappraising negative emotions. This study assessed neural mechanisms associated with emotion regulation in veterans prior to and following treatment for PTSD. Participants with PTSD and combat exposed controls (CC) completed diagnostic evaluation and underwent fMRI scanning while completing Emotion Regulation Task (ERT) and Emotional Faces Assessment Task (EFAT). Participants with PTSD were randomly assigned to Prolonged Exposure plus placebo (PE+PLB), Sertraline plus enhanced medication management (SERT+EMM), or PE plus SERT (PE+SERT) and repeated diagnostic evaluation and MRI scanning following treatment. The amygdala, dmPFC, and dlPFC were examined as regions of interest. On ERT, veterans with PTSD showed significantly less dmPFC activation than CCs during reappraisal vs emotional maintenance. Within the PTSD group, results demonstrated a significant association between less activation in the dmPFC during emotion reappraisal vs maintenance trials before treatment and greater reductions in symptoms from pre- to post-treatment. During the EFAT, there were no group differences between participants with PTSD and CCs in brain activation, and no relationships between brain function and PTSD symptoms. These findings suggest that less emotional reactivity might potentially reflect less need for recruitment of prefrontal regions when reappraising negative emotion, and is an individual factor associated with better treatment outcome.

Trial registration: NCT01524133.

Keywords: Amygdala; Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex; Medial prefrontal cortex; Prolonged Exposure; SSRI; Veterans; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Sertraline / therapeutic use
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Veterans / psychology


  • Sertraline

Associated data