Decreased uncinate fasciculus tract integrity in male and female patients with PTSD: a diffusion tensor imaging study

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Abstract

Background

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disabling psychiatric disorder that has been associated with lower white matter integrity of tracts connecting the prefrontal cortex with limbic regions. However, previous diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) findings have been inconsistent, showing high variability in the exact location and direction of effects.

Methods

We performed probabilistic tractography of the bilateral uncinate fasciculus, cingulum and superior longitudinal fasciculus (both temporal and parietal projections) in male and female police officers with and without PTSD.

Results

We included 38 (21 men) police officers with and 39 (20 men) without PTSD in our analyses. Compared with trauma-exposed controls, patients with PTSD showed significantly higher mean diffusivity of the right uncinate fasciculus, the major white matter tract connecting the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex (p = 0.012). No other significant between-group or group × sex differences were observed. Mean diffusivity of the right uncinate fasciculus was positively associated with anxiety symptoms (r = 0.410, p = 0.013) in patients with PTSD as well as with amygdala activity (r = 0.247, p = 0.038) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) activity (r = 0.283, p = 0.016) in all participants in response to happy and neutral faces.

Limitations

Our specific sample of trauma-exposed police officers limits the generalizability of our findings to other PTSD patient groups (e.g., civilian trauma).

Conclusion

Patients with PTSD showed diminished structural connectivity between the amygdala and vmPFC, which was correlated with higher anxiety symptoms and increased functional activity of these brain regions. Our findings provide additional evidence for the prevailing neurocircuitry model of PTSD, postulating that ineffective communication between the amygdala and vmPFC underlies decreased top–down control over fear responses.

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