Neural responses to emotional involuntary memories in posttraumatic stress disorder: Differences in timing and activity.

Journal Article

Background:Involuntary memories are a hallmark symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but studies of the neural basis of involuntary memory retrieval in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are sparse. The study of the neural correlates of involuntary memories of stressful events in PTSD focuses on the voluntary retrieval of memories that are sometimes recalled as intrusive involuntary memories, not on involuntary retrieval while being scanned. Involuntary memory retrieval in controls has been shown to elicit activity in the parahippocampal gyrus, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and posterior midline regions. However, it is unknown whether involuntary memories are supported by the same mechanisms in PTSD. Because previous work has shown that both behavioral and neural responsivity is slowed in PTSD, we examined the spatiotemporal dynamics of the neural activity underlying negative and neutral involuntary memory retrieval. Methods:Twenty-one individuals with PTSD and 21 non-PTSD, trauma-exposed controls performed an involuntary memory task, while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan. Environmental sounds served as cues for well-associated pictures of negative and neutral scenes. We used a finite impulse response model to analyze temporal differences between groups in neural responses. Results:Compared with controls, participants with PTSD reported more involuntary memories, which were more emotional and more vivid, but which activated a similar network of regions. However, compared to controls, individuals with PTSD showed delayed neural responsivity in this network and increased vmPFC/ACC activity for negative > neutral stimuli. Conclusions:The similarity between PTSD and controls in neural substrates underlying involuntary memories suggests that, unlike voluntary memories, involuntary memories elicit similar activity in regions critical for memory retrieval. Further, the delayed neural responsivity for involuntary memories in PTSD suggests that factors affecting cognition in PTSD, like increased fatigue, or avoidance behaviors could do so by delaying activity in regions necessary for cognitive processing. Finally, compared to neutral memories, negative involuntary memories elicit hyperactivity in the vmPFC, whereas the vmPFC is typically shown to be hypoactive in PTSD during voluntary memory retrieval. These patterns suggest that considering both the temporal dynamics of cognitive processes as well as involuntary cognitive processes would improve existing neurobiological models of PTSD.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • LaBar, K; Rubin, D; Hall, SA; Brodar, KE; Berntsen, D

Published Date

  • January 2018

Published By

PubMed ID

  • 30013923

Pubmed Central ID

  • 30013923

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.05.009