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Face Off: Brain's reaction to fearful faces predicts PTSD

By Robin Reese

face offReactivity in the amygdala—the area of the brain that processes emotion, aggression, and fear—may help predict who will have PTSD in the year following a trauma.

The pilot study, published in Biological Psychiatry, points to the importance of identifying patients at risk after trauma exposure in order to better assist with recovery.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging about a month after trauma, a research team led by Jennifer Stevens, a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, looked at reactivity in the amygdala while patients viewed pictures with either fearful or neutral faces.

The team conducted the neuroimaging study a month after participants were admitted to the emergency department at Grady Hospital, a level I trauma center. Participants were approached within 24 hours of a traumatic experience such as a car accident, work-related injury, or assault.

Each participant’s PTSD symptoms were assessed, through self-reporting, at one, three, six, and 12 months after their initial visit. Researchers found that participants with high levels of amygdala reactivity to the fearful faces had more severe PTSD symptoms initially and a greater severity of symptoms 12 months after the trauma.

Related Link

"Neuroimaging may aid in predicting PTSD following trauma" (News Release, 2/10/2017)

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