Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with medial frontal and amygdala functional alterations during the processing of traumatic material and frontoparietal dysfunctions during working memory tasks. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the effects of trauma-related words processing on working memory in patients with PTSD.
We obtained fMRI scans during a 3-back task and an identity task on both neutral and trauma-related words in women with PTSD who had been sexually abused and in healthy, nonexposed pair-matched controls.
Seventeen women with PTSD and 17 controls participated in the study. We found no behavioural working memory deficit for the PTSD group. In both tasks, deactivation of posterior parietal midline regions was more pronounced in patients than controls. Additionally, patients with PTSD recruited the left dorsolateral frontal sites to a greater extent during the processing of trauma-related material than neutral material.
This study included only women and did not include a trauma-exposed non-PTSD control group; the results may, therefore, have been influenced by sex or by effects specific to trauma exposure.
Our results broadly confirm frontal and parietal functional variations in women with PTSD and suggest a compensatory nature of these variations with regard to the retreival of traumatic memories and global attentional deficits, respectively, during cognitively challenging tasks.