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Stress Disorders Affect Brain Processing

Stress Disorders Affect Brain ProcessingBrain imaging using functional MRI (fMRI) has allowed researchers to determine that the circuitry in the area of the brain responsible for suppressing memory is dysfunctional in patients suffering from stress-related psychiatric disorders. “For patients with major depression and other stress-related disorders, traumatic memories are a source of anxiety,” said Nivedita Agarwal, M.D., at the University of Udine in Italy, where the study is being conducted, and research fellow at the Brain Imaging Center of McLean Hospital, Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“Because traumatic memories are not adequately suppressed by the brain, they continue to interfere with the patient’s life.”

Dr. Agarwal and colleagues used brain fMRI to explore alterations in the neural circuitry that links the prefrontal cortex to the hippocampus, while study participants performed a memory task.

Participants included 11 patients with major depression, 13 with generalized anxiety disorder, nine with panic attack disorders, five with borderline personality disorder and 21 healthy individuals. All patients reported suffering varying degrees of stressful traumatic events, such as sexual or physical abuse, difficult relationships or “mobbing” — a type of bullying or harassment — at some point in their lives.

After reviewing a list of neutral word pairs, each participant underwent fMRI. During imaging, they were presented with one of the words and asked to either recall or to suppress the memory of its associated word.

The fMRI images revealed that the prefrontal cortex, which controls the suppression and retrieval of memories processed by the hippocampus, showed abnormal activation in the patients with stress-related disorders compared to the healthy controls.

During the memory suppression phase of the test, patients with stress-related disorders showed greater activation in the hippocampus, suggesting that insufficient activation of the prefrontal cortex could be the basis for inadequate suppression of unwanted traumatic memories stored in the hippocampus.

“These data suggest that the mechanism for memory suppression is dysfunctional in patients with stress-related disorders primarily because of an alteration of the prefrontal cortex,” Dr. Agarwal said. “These patients often complain of poor memory, which might in part be attributed to this altered circuitry,” she added.

According to Dr. Agarwal, fMRI is an important tool in understanding the neurobiological basis of psychiatric disorders and in identifying imaging markers to psychiatric disease, helping clinicians target specific parts of the brain for treatment.

Source: Radiological Society of North America

Stress Disorders Affect Brain Processing

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Stress Disorders Affect Brain Processing. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 15, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2008/12/04/stress-disorders-affect-brain-processing/3449.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.