U. MINNESOTA (US) — Increased circuit activity in the right side of the brain correlates with the debilitating, involuntary flashbacks triggered by post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD often stems from war, but can also be a result of exposure to any psychologically traumatic event and manifests itself in flashbacks, recurring nightmares, anger, or hyper-vigilance.
Using a non-invasive measurement of magnetic fields in the brain called magnetoencephalography (MEG), researchers found differences between signals in the temporal and parieto-occipital right hemispheric areas of the brain among those with PTSD.
Details of the study are published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
The temporal cortex, in accordance with earlier findings on the effects of its electrical stimulation during brain surgery, is thought to be responsible for the re-living of past experiences.
Participants in the study included 80 subjects with confirmed PTSD, many who served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq; 18 subjects in PTSD remission; and 284 healthy subjects.
The MEG tests reveal a clear difference in activity among the circuitry in the brains of PTSD sufferers in comparison to those without the condition. Conventional brain scans such as an X-ray, CT, or MRI have failed to demonstrate similar findings.
Besides diagnosing those with PTSD, researchers were are able to judge the severity of a patient’s suffering, which means the MEG may be able to gauge how badly patients are impacted by other brain disorders.
“Having a diagnostic exam capable of confirming post-traumatic stress disorder is critical in treating these patients properly,” says Apostolos Georgopoulos, professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota.
Brains of PTSD sufferers taking part in the study were in the hyperactive state despite the lack of any immediate external stimulation—evidence discovered when they were purposefully put into a “task-free state.”
Researchers the finding confirms that PTSD sufferers can relive terrifying memories at any moment regardless of what they are doing.
“Remarkably, the differences we found between the PTSD and the control groups were documented in a task-free state without evoking traumatic experiences, and therefore, reflect the status of steady-state neuronal interactions,” Georgopoulos says.
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