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Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(10):1683-96. Epub 2006 May 22.

Retrieval and emotional processing of traumatic memories in posttraumatic stress disorder: peripheral and central correlates.

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  • 1Department of Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Heidelberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, J 5, 68159 Mannheim, Germany. wessa@zi-mannheim.de

Abstract

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is thought to be characterized by dysfunctional memory processes, i.e., the automatic re-experiencing of the traumatic event and the inability to consciously recall facts about the traumatic event, as well as altered emotional processing of trauma-relevant cues. The present study examined the cerebral mechanisms underlying the cued recall of trauma-specific memories and the emotional processing of the presented cues in 16 PTSD patients, 15 trauma-exposed subjects without PTSD and 16 healthy controls. Subjects received questions about their specific trauma as well as other disastrous and neutral events while the electroencephalogram and heart rate were measured. The PTSD patients showed no impairment in trauma-specific declarative memory compared to non-PTSD subjects but had some deficits in general declarative memory as assessed by the Wechsler Memory Scale-Revised. Compared to healthy control subjects, PTSD patients displayed increased P300 and late positive complex amplitudes to trauma-specific questions, indicating enhanced emotional processing of these cues. In line with their behavioral performance, both trauma-exposed groups showed decreased terminal contingent negative variation amplitudes to trauma-specific questions over frontal electrodes reflecting altered memory retrieval. Within-group comparisons revealed that only the PTSD group but not the other groups showed a differentiation between trauma-specific and neutral questions with respect to the LPC, tCNV and P300. Concordantly with previous studies, PTSD patients showed elevated resting heart rate compared to the healthy controls. These findings are discussed in the context of current models of the role of declarative memory in the development and maintenance of PTSD.

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