Alterations in default network connectivity in posttraumatic stress disorder related to early-life trauma

Alterations in default network connectivity in posttraumatic stress disorder related to early-life trauma

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J Psychiatry Neurosci 2010; 34(3): 187-194

Robyn L. Bluhm, PhD; Peter C. Williamson, MD; Elizabeth A. Osuch, MD; Paul A. Frewen, PhD; Todd K. Stevens, PhD; Kristine Boksman, PhD; Richard W.J. Neufeld, PhD; Jean Théberge, PhD; Ruth A. Lanius, MD, PhD

Bluhm — Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.; Williamson, Osuch, Frewen, Théberge, Lanius — Department of Psychiatry, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.; Stevens— Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, Calif.; Boksman — Hotel Dieu, Kingston, Ont.; Neufeld — Department of Psychology; Théberge — Departments of Medical Biophysics and of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.

Abstract

Background: The “default network” consists of a number of brain regions that exhibit correlated low-frequency activity at rest and that have been suggested to be involved in the processing of self-relevant stimuli. Activity in many of these areas has also been shown to be altered in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We hypothesized that the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)/precuneus, part of the default network, would exhibit altered connectivity at rest with other areas of the default network and regions associated with PTSD.

Methods: Seventeen medicated and unmedicated female patients with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to early-life trauma and 15 healthy female controls underwent a 5.5-minute functional magnetic resonance imaging scan with their eyes closed. We assessed areas of the brain whose activity positively and negatively correlated with that of the PCC/precuneus in both groups.

Results: At rest, spontaneous low-frequency activity in the PCC/precuneus was more strongly correlated with activity in other areas of the default network in healthy controls than in patients with PTSD. Direct comparison of the 2 groups showed that PCC/ precuneus connectivity was also greater in healthy controls than in patients with PTSD in a number of areas previously associated with PTSD, including the right amygdala and the hippocampus/parahippocampal gyrus. Limitations: Because our PTSD sample comprised only women with chronic early-life trauma exposure, our results may not be generalizeable to male patients, to a population with single trauma exposure or to those who were adults when the trauma occurred. In addition, our sample included patients taking medication and it is not yet clear how altered connectivity is affected by medication.

Limitations: Because our PTSD sample comprised only women with chronic early-life trauma exposure, our results may not be generalizeable to male patients, to a population with single trauma exposure or to those who were adults when the trauma occurred. In addition, our sample included patients taking medication andit is not yet clear how altered connectivity is affected by medication.

Conclusions: Spontaneous activity in the default network during rest, as measured using PCC correlations, is altered in patients with PTSD. The potential effects of psychotropic medications on default network connectivity in the present sample remain unknown. In this patient population, the observed alterations may be associated with the disturbances in self-referential processing often observed in patients with chronic PTSD related to early-life trauma.


Submitted Jun. 27, 2008; Revised Oct. 20, 2008; Accepted Oct. 24, 2008

Competing interests: None declared.

Contributors: Drs. Bluhm, Williamson, Frewen, Boksman, Neufeld, Théberge and Lanius designed the study. Drs. Bluhm, Williamson, Frewen, Stevens, Boksman, Neufeld and Lanius acquired the data, which all authors analyzed. Drs. Bluhm, Williamson, Frewen, Boksman, Neufeld, Théberge and Lanius wrote the article. All authors reviewed the article and provided approval for publication.

Correspondence to: Dr. R.A. Lanius, University Hospital–LHSC, 339 Windermere Rd., London ON N6A 5A5; fax 519 663-3935; ruth.lanius@lhsc.on.ca