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There is controversy over the extent to which the new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) diagnosis of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is distinct from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study aimed to conduct the first investigation of distinctive neural processes during threat processing in CPTSD relative to PTSD.
This cross-sectional functional magnetic resonance study included 99 participants who met criteria for PTSD (PTSD = 32, CPTSD = 28) and 39 trauma-exposed controls. PTSD was assessed with the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). CPTSD was assessed with an adapted version of the International Trauma Questionnaire. Neural responses were measured across the brain while threat or neutral faces were presented at both supraliminal and subliminal levels.
During supraliminal presentations of threat stimuli, there was greater bilateral insula and right amygdala activation in CPTSD participants relative to PTSD. Reduced supraliminal right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation and increased subliminal amygdala and insula activation were observed as common dysfunction for both CPTSD and PTSD groups relative to trauma controls. There were no significant differences in terms of subliminal presentations and no differences in functional connectivity. Dissociative responses were positively associated with right insula activation (r = 0.347, p < 0.01).
These results provide the first evidence of distinct neural profiles of CPTSD and PTSD during threat processing. The observation of increased insula and right amygdala activation in CPTSD accords with the proposal that CPTSD is distinguished from PTSD by disturbances in emotion regulation and self-concept.
Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) has recently been recognized as a separate psychiatric diagnosis, despite controversy over the extent to which it is distinctive from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD).
This study investigated distinctive neural processes underpinning emotion processing in participants with PGD, PTSD, and MDD with functional magnetic resonance study of 117 participants that included PGD (n = 21), PTSD (n = 45), MDD (n = 26), and bereaved controls (BC) (n = 25). Neural responses were measured across the brain while sad, happy, or neutral faces were presented at both supraliminal and subliminal levels.
PGD had greater activation in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC), bilateral insula, bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortices and right caudate and also greater pgACC–right pallidum connectivity relative to BC during subliminal processing of happy faces. PGD was distinct relative to both PTSD and MDD groups with greater recruitment of the medial orbitofrontal cortex during supraliminal processing of sad faces. PGD were also distinct relative to MDD (but not PTSD) with greater activation in the left amygdala, caudate, and putamen during subliminal presentation of sad faces. There was no distinction between PGD, PTSD, and MDD during processing of happy faces.
These results provide initial evidence of distinct neural profiles of PGD relative to related psychopathological conditions, and highlight activation of neural regions implicated in reward networks. This pattern of findings validates current models of PGD that emphasize the roles of yearning and appetitive processes in PGD.
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