Neural activity and emotional processing following military deployment: Effects of mild traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder

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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) are common comorbidities during military deployment that affect emotional brain processing, yet few studies have examined the independent effects of mTBI and PTSD. The purpose of this study was to examine distinct differences in neural responses to emotional faces in mTBI and PTSD. Twenty-one soldiers reporting high PTSD symptoms were compared to 21 soldiers with low symptoms, and 16 soldiers who reported mTBI-consistent injury and symptoms were compared with 16 soldiers who did not sustain an mTBI. Participants viewed emotional face expressions while their neural activity was recorded (via event-related potentials) prior to and following deployment. The high-PTSD group displayed increased P1 and P2 amplitudes to threatening faces at post-deployment compared to the low-PTSD group. In contrast, the mTBI group displayed reduced face-specific processing (N170 amplitude) to all facial expressions compared to the no-mTBI group. Here, we identified distinctive neural patterns of emotional face processing, with attentional biases towards threatening faces in PTSD, and reduced emotional face processing in mTBI.

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