Regional cerebral glucose metabolism differentiates danger- and non-danger-based traumas in post-traumatic stress disorder

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Abstract

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is presumably the result of life threats and conditioned fear. However, the neurobiology of fear fails to explain the impact of traumas that do not entail threats. Neuronal function, assessed as glucose metabolism with 18fluoro-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography, was contrasted in active duty, treatment-seeking US Army Soldiers with PTSD endorsing either danger- (n = 19) or non-danger-based (n = 26) traumas, and was compared with soldiers without PTSD (Combat Controls, n = 26) and Civilian Controls (n = 24). Prior meta-analyses of regions associated with fear or trauma script imagery in PTSD were used to compare glucose metabolism across groups. Danger-based traumas were associated with higher metabolism in the right amygdala than the control groups, while non-danger-based traumas associated with heightened precuneus metabolism relative to the danger group. In the danger group, PTSD severity was associated with higher metabolism in precuneus and dorsal anterior cingulate and lower metabolism in left amygdala (R2 = 0.61). In the non-danger group, PTSD symptom severity was associated with higher precuneus metabolism and lower right amygdala metabolism (R2 = 0.64). These findings suggest a biological basis to consider subtyping PTSD according to the nature of the traumatic context.

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