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Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Apr 1;45(7):817-26.

Brain activation in PTSD in response to trauma-related stimuli.

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  • 1Psychiatry Service, Ann Arbor VAMC, MI, USA.



Repetitive recall of traumatic memories and chronic intermittent hyperarousal are characteristic of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hyperarousal and memory dysfunction implicates "limbic" brain regions, including the amygdaloid complex, hippocampal formation, and limbic cortex, such as the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate areas. To investigate the neurobiologic role of these brain regions in PTSD, we measured regional cerebral blood flow in PTSD with single photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) during a symptom provocation paradigm.


Fourteen Vietnam veterans with PTSD, 11 combat control subjects, and 14 normal control subjects were studied with [99mTc]HMPAO in two sessions 48 hours apart: one session after exposure to white noise and the other following exposure to combat sounds. Skin conductance, heart rate, and subjective experience were recorded at the time of the studies.


Activation for all three groups occurred in the anterior cingulate/middle prefrontal gyrus. Activation in the region of the left amygdala/nucleus accumbens was found in PTSD patients only. Deactivation was found in all three groups in the left retrosplenial region.


These findings implicate regions of the "limbic" brain, which may mediate the response to aversive stimuli in healthy individuals and in patients suffering from PTSD.

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