In the Journals

Amygdala activation could predict PTSD susceptibility

Using data collected before and after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, researchers report amygdala activation could help identify those most vulnerable to posttraumatic stress disorder. Their findings are published in Depression and Anxiety.

Katie A. McLaughlin, PhD, of the University of Washington, and colleagues evaluated 15 adolescents who had previously participated in a neuroimaging study examining childhood trauma. Following the Boston Marathon bombing a year later, participants were asked to complete a follow-up survey about their experiences during the bombing to assess PTSD symptoms related to the attack.

Katie McLaughlin

Katie A. McLaughlin

“The amygdala responds to both negative and positive stimuli, but it’s particularly attuned to identifying potential threats in the environment,” McLaughlin said in a press release. “In the current study of adolescents, the more their amygdala responded to negative images, the more likely they were to have symptoms of PTSD following the terrorist attacks.”

Activation in the left amygdala caused by negative emotional stimuli showed a positive association with posttraumatic symptoms following the attack (P=.013), according to researchers.

Additionally, significant associations were found between amygdala activation when viewing negative images and whether participants developed PTSD symptoms following the attack.

“Heightened amygdala reactivity to negative emotional information is associated with future onset of posttraumatic symptoms following a terrorist attack, independent of prior internalizing symptoms — including symptoms of PTSD — and violence exposure,” the researchers wrote. “These findings suggest that elevated amygdala reactivity to negative emotional information could represent a neurobiological marker of vulnerability to traumatic stress and, potentially, a risk factor for PTSD.”

Katie A. McLaughlin, PhD, can be reached at Box 351525, Seattle, WA 98195; email: mclaughk@uw.edu.

Disclosure: The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.