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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Altered oscillatory brain dynamics after repeated traumatic stress

Iris-Tatjana Kolassa*, Christian Wienbruch, Frank Neuner, Maggie Schauer, Martina Ruf, Michael Odenwald and Thomas Elbert

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology, Clinical & Neuropsychology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

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BMC Psychiatry 2007, 7:56  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-7-56

Published: 17 October 2007

Abstract

Background

Repeated traumatic experiences, e.g. torture and war, lead to functional and structural cerebral changes, which should be detectable in cortical dynamics. Abnormal slow waves produced within circumscribed brain regions during a resting state have been associated with lesioned neural circuitry in neurological disorders and more recently also in mental illness.

Methods

Using magnetoencephalographic (MEG-based) source imaging, we mapped abnormal distributions of generators of slow waves in 97 survivors of torture and war with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in comparison to 97 controls.

Results

PTSD patients showed elevated production of focally generated slow waves (1–4 Hz), particularly in left temporal brain regions, with peak activities in the region of the insula. Furthermore, differential slow wave activity in right frontal areas was found in PTSD patients compared to controls.

Conclusion

The insula, as a site of multimodal convergence, could play a key role in understanding the pathophysiology of PTSD, possibly accounting for what has been called posttraumatic alexithymia, i.e., reduced ability to identify, express and regulate emotional responses to reminders of traumatic events. Differences in activity in right frontal areas may indicate a dysfunctional PFC, which may lead to diminished extinction of conditioned fear and reduced inhibition of the amygdala.