In an attempt to avoid unknown influence, most neuroimaging studies examining the pathophysiology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) exclude patients taking medications. Here we review the empirical evidence for relevant medications having a confounding effect on task performance or cerebral blood flow (CBF) in this population. The evidence for potentially confounding effects of psychotherapy in PTSD are also discussed.
The literature that we reviewed was obtained through a PubMed search from 1980 to 2009 using the search terms posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, psychotropic medications, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, cerebral blood flow, CBF, serotonin-specific reuptake blocker, benzodiazepine, ketamine, methamphetamine, lamotrigine and atypical antipsychotic agents.
The empirical evidence for relevant medications having a confounding effect on task performance or CBF in relevant areas remains sparse for most psychotropic medications among patients with PTSD. However, considerable evidence is accumulating for 2 of the most commonly prescribed medication classes (serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors and benzodiazepines) in healthy controls. Compelling data for the potentially confounding effects on brain areas relevant to PTSD for psychotherapeutic interventions are also accumulating.
Neuroimaging studies examining the pathophysiology of PTSD should ideally recruit both medicated (assuming that the medication treatment has not resulted in the remission of symptoms) and unmedicated participants, to allow the findings to be generalized with greater confidence to the entire population of patients with PTSD. More research is needed into the independent effects of medications on task performance and CBF in regions of interest in PTSD. Neuro-imaging studies should also take into account whether patients are currently engaged in psychotherapeutic treatment.