Distinct patterns of resting-state connectivity in U.S. service members with mild traumatic brain injury versus posttraumatic stress disorder

Brain Imaging Behav. 2021 Oct;15(5):2616-2626. doi: 10.1007/s11682-021-00464-1. Epub 2021 Mar 23.


Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is highly prevalent in military populations, with many service members suffering from long-term symptoms. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often co-occurs with mTBI and predicts worse clinical outcomes. Functional neuroimaging research suggests there are both overlapping and distinct patterns of resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) in mTBI versus PTSD. However, few studies have directly compared rsFC of cortical networks in military service members with these two conditions. In the present study, U.S. service members (n = 137; ages 19-59; 120 male) underwent resting-state fMRI scans. Participants were divided into three study groups: mTBI only, PTSD only, and orthopedically injured (OI) controls. Analyses investigated group differences in rsFC for cortical networks: default mode (DMN), frontoparietal (FPN), salience, somatosensory, motor, auditory, and visual. Analyses were family-wise error (FWE) cluster-corrected and Bonferroni-corrected for number of network seeds regions at the whole brain level (pFWE < 0.002). Both mTBI and PTSD groups had reduced rsFC for DMN and FPN regions compared with OI controls. These group differences were largely driven by diminished connectivity in the PTSD group. rsFC with the middle frontal gyrus of the FPN was increased in mTBI, but decreased in PTSD. Overall, these results suggest that PTSD symptoms may have a more consistent signal than mTBI. Our novel findings of opposite patterns of connectivity with lateral prefrontal cortex highlight a potential biomarker that could be used to differentiate between these conditions.

Keywords: Default mode network; Frontoparietal network; Mild traumatic brain injury; Posttraumatic stress disorder; Resting-state functional connectivity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Concussion* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / diagnostic imaging
  • Young Adult