Neural correlates of acute post-traumatic dissociation: a functional neuroimaging script-driven imagery study

Yoki Linn Mertens, Antje Manthey, Anika Sierk, Henrik Walter, Judith K. Daniels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Background: Current neurobiological models of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) assume excessive medial frontal activation and hypoactivation of cortico-limbic regions as neural markers of
post-traumatic dissociation. Script-driven imagery is an established experimental paradigm that is used to study acute dissociative reactions during trauma exposure. However, there is a scarcity of experimental research investigating neural markers of dissociation; findings from existing script-driven neuroimaging studies are inconsistent and based on small sample sizes.
Aims: The current aim was to identify the neural correlates of acute post-traumatic dissociation by employing the script-driven imagery paradigm in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Method: Functional neuroimaging data was acquired in 51 female patients with PTSD with a history of interpersonal childhood trauma. Blood-oxygen-level-dependent response during the traumatic (versus neutral) autobiographical memory recall was analysed, and the derived activation clusters were correlated with dissociation measures.
Results: During trauma recall, enhanced activation in the cerebellum, occipital gyri, supramarginal gyrus and amygdala was identified. None of the derived clusters correlated significantly with dissociative symptoms, although patients reported increased levels of acute dissociation following the paradigm.
Conclusions: The present study is one of the largest functional magnetic resonance imaging investigations of dissociative neural biomarkers in patients with PTSD undergoing experimentally induced trauma confrontation to elicit symptom-specific brain reactivity. In light of the current reproducibility crisis prominent in neuroimaging research owing to costly and time-consuming data acquisition, the current (null) findings highlight the difficulty of extracting reliable neurobiological biomarkers for complex subjective experiences such as dissociation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere109
Number of pages12
JournalBJPsych Open
Volume8
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2022

Keywords

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Dissociation
  • Biomarkers
  • fMRI
  • Trauma confrontation

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