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Curr Opin Psychol. 2017 Apr;14:109-115. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.11.006. Epub 2016 Nov 26.

The innate alarm system in PTSD: conscious and subconscious processing of threat.

Author information

1
Department of Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada; Department of Psychiatry, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada; Imaging Division, Lawson Health Research Institute, 750 Base Line Road East, London, ON N6C 2R5, Canada; Homewood Research Institute, 150 Delhi St, Guelph, ON N1E 6K9, Canada. Electronic address: ruth.lanius@lhsc.on.ca.
2
Department of Psychiatry, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada.
3
Homewood Research Institute, 150 Delhi St, Guelph, ON N1E 6K9, Canada; Mood Disorders Program, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, 100 West 5th St., Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada; Department of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada.
4
Department of Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada.
5
Department of Psychiatry, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada; Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada.
6
Homewood Research Institute, 150 Delhi St, Guelph, ON N1E 6K9, Canada; Mood Disorders Program, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, 100 West 5th St., Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada; Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, 100 West 5th, Hamilton, ON L8N 3K7, Canada.

Abstract

The innate alarm system (IAS), comprised of functionally connected brain regions including the brainstem, amygdala, pulvinar, and frontotemporal cortex, is a fast subcortical brain network facilitating rapid responses to threat. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) features subconscious and conscious threat detection, together contributing to hyperarousal symptoms. Emerging literature identifies aberrant threat-related neurocircuitry involved in subconscious and conscious threat processing in PTSD. We review this literature, focusing on subconscious threat processing and its relation to the IAS. Available evidence indicates increased neural activity and functional connectivity between IAS brain regions (e.g. locus coeruleus, superior colliculus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex). These alterations are observed during both subconscious threat processing and at rest, suggesting increased defensive posturing, maintained in the absence of overt threat.

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