One of the biggest obstacles towards treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comes from the different ways it expresses itself in the brain. Now, researchers have found a new marker for a subtype of PTSD in brain regions linked to executive functioning and emotional regulation.
For the study, the researchers examined 271 veterans, who had been deployed to post-9/11 conflicts and of whom 90% were male, in the Translational Research Center for Traumatic Brain Injury and Stress Disorders in Boston. Each participant underwent functional MRI scans to measure how different areas of their brains communicated alongside neuropsychological tests measuring PTSD and cognitive functioning such as executive functioning.
In the end, the researchers found that veterans with more severe PTSD tended to have increased disruption between their cognitive control network (frontal-parietal control network) and their emotional processing network (the limbic system). The researchers noted that this marker was particularly significant in those with the most clinically impaired executive functioning. Meanwhile, those with above-average executive functioning did not exhibit the same dysregulation.
These findings say the researchers, mean that if someone has PTSD and impaired executive function, they are also more likely to have a unique brain marker linked to emotional regulation. This may mean that such individuals may struggle with treatments that require high levels of emotional regulation and executive functioning and may be best served by specific treatment strategies.
As this marker is not present across all cases of PTSD, the researchers also note that their findings may indicate a subtype of PTSD. As such, they hope that their study may go on to help diagnose and treat individuals based on their own unique clinical and biological profile, as opposed to a more general basis.