Functional Neuroanatomy of Emotion and Its Regulation in PTSD

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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a devastating disorder, linked to profound mental, physical, occupational, and functional impairment. In addition, it is a highly complex disorder, characterized by symptom heterogeneity across multiple domains. Nevertheless, emotion dysregulation arising from the exaggerated response to threat or from the inability to regulate negative emotional states plays a defining role in the pathophysiology of PTSD. In order to improve our understanding of how emotion dysregulation manifests in this illness, functional neuroimaging research over the past 20 years provides great insight into underlying neuroanatomy of each component of emotion dysregulation in the context of PTSD. While prior reviews exist on the topic of neuroimaging findings in PTSD, the present review synthesizes that work through the lens of emotion and its regulation. Studies that employed tasks of emotional responding and symptom provocation, implicit regulation (e.g., emotional Stroop and interference), explicit regulation (e.g., cognitive reappraisal), and fear conditioning/extinction were reviewed. Findings demonstrate that emotion dysregulation in PTSD arises from complications within a large neurocircuitry involving the amygdala, insula, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and prefrontal cortex. Although an exaggerated response in the amygdala and insula to negative emotional triggers is pervasive, PTSD is also marked by deficient appraisal, resolution, and management of negative emotional states subserved by the anterior cingulate cortex and prefrontal cortex during regulation. These findings further support the importance of studying emotion-regulation deficits in tandem with exaggerated symptom provocation in order to better understand the constellation of symptoms present in those with PTSD.

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