The dissociative subtype of posttraumatic stress disorder is associated with subcortical white matter network alterations

Anika Sierk, Antje Manthey, Eva-Lotta Brakemeier, Henrik Walter, Judith K Daniels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by intrusions, avoidance, and hyperarousal while patients of the dissociative subtype (PTSD-D) experience additional dissociative symptoms. A neurobiological model proposes hyper-inhibition of limbic structures mediated by prefrontal cortices to underlie dissociation in PTSD. Here, we tested whether functional alterations in fronto-limbic circuits are underpinned by white matter network abnormalities on a network level. 23 women with PTSD-D and 19 women with classic PTSD participated. We employed deterministic diffusion tractography and graph theoretical analyses. Mean fractional anisotropy (FA) was chosen as a network weight and group differences assessed using network-based statistics. No significant white matter network alterations comprising both frontal and limbic structures in PTSD-D relative to classic PTSD were found. A subsequent whole brain exploratory analysis revealed relative FA alterations in PTSD-D in two subcortical networks, comprising connections between the left amygdala, hippocampus, and thalamus as well as links between the left ventral diencephalon, putamen, and pallidum, respectively. Dissociative symptom severity in the PTSD-D group correlated with FA values within both networks. Our findings suggest fronto-limbic inhibition in PTSD-D may present a dynamic neural process, which is not hard-wired via white matter tracts. Our exploratory results point towards altered fiber tract communication in a limbic-thalamic circuit, which may underlie (a) an initial strong emotional reaction to trauma reminders before conscious regulatory processes are enabled and (b) deficits in early sensory processing. In addition, aberrant structural connectivity in low-level motor regions may present neural correlates for dissociation as a passive threat-response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643–655
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Early online date27-Apr-2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2021

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