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Biol Psychiatry. 2010 Sep 1;68(5):433-41. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.04.028. Epub 2010 Jun 22.

Exaggerated and disconnected insular-amygdalar blood oxygenation level-dependent response to threat-related emotional faces in women with intimate-partner violence posttraumatic stress disorder.

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Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego State University/University of California-San Diego, San Diego, California, USA.



Intimate-partner violence (IPV) is one of the most common causes of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among women. PTSD neuroimaging studies have identified functional differences in the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)/medial prefrontal cortex during emotion processing. Recent investigations of the limbic sensory system and its associated neural substrate, the insular cortex, have demonstrated its importance for emotional awareness. This study examined the hypothesis that women with IPV-PTSD show a dysregulation of this limbic sensory system while processing threat-related emotional faces.


12 women with IPV-PTSD and 12 nontraumatized comparison women underwent blood oxygenation level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging while completing an emotional face-matching task.


IPV-PTSD subjects relative to comparison subjects displayed increased activation of the anterior insula and amygdala and decreased connectivity among the anterior insula, amygdala, and ACC while matching to fearful versus happy target faces. A similar pattern of activation differences was also observed for angry versus happy target faces. IPV-PTSD subjects relative to comparison subjects also displayed increased dorsal ACC/medial prefrontal cortex activation and decreased ventral ACC activation when matching to a male versus a female target, and the extent of increased dorsal ACC activation correlated positively with hyperarousal symptoms.


Women with IPV-PTSD display hyperactivity and disconnection among affective and limbic sensory systems while processing threat-related emotion. Furthermore, hyperactivity of cognitive-appraisal networks in IPV-PTSD may promote hypervigilant states of awareness through an exaggerated sensitivity to contextual cues, i.e., male gender, which relate to past trauma.

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