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While trauma-focused cognitive–behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is the ‘gold standard’ treatment for pediatric post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), little is known about the neural mechanisms by which TF-CBT produces clinical benefit. Here, we test the hypothesis that PTSD symptom reduction during TF-CBT among adolescent girls with PTSD is associated with changes in patterns of brain functional connectivity (FC) with the amygdala during cognitive reappraisal.
Adolescent girls with PTSD related to physical or sexual assault (n = 34) were enrolled in TF-CBT, delivered in an approximately 12-session format, in an open trial. Before and after treatment, they were engaged in a cognitive reappraisal task, probing neural mechanisms of explicit emotion regulation, during 3 T functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Among adolescent girls completing TF-CBT with usable pre- and post-treatment scans (n = 20), improvements in self-reported emotion from pre- to post-treatment were positively related to improvements in PTSD symptoms. Adolescent girls with greater post-treatment symptom reduction were also able to suppress amygdala–insula FC while re-appraising, which was not evident in girls with less symptom reduction. Pre- to post-treatment changes in right amygdala to left insula FC that scaled with PTSD symptom reduction also scaled with improvements in emotion regulation.
These preliminary results suggest the neurocircuitry mechanisms through which TF-CBT produces clinical outcomes, providing putative brain targets for augmenting TF-CBT response.
Early life stress (ELS) is a significant risk factor for depression. The effects of ELS exposure on neural network organization have not been differentiated from the effect of depression. Furthermore, many individuals exposed to ELS do not develop depression, yet the network organization patterns differentiating resiliency versus susceptibility to the depressogenic effects of ELS are not clear.
Women aged 18–44 years with either a history of ELS and no history of depression (n = 7), a history of ELS and current or past depression (n = 19), or a history of neither ELS nor depression (n = 12) underwent a resting-state 3-T functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan. An emotion regulation brain network consisting of 21 nodes was described using graph analyses and compared between groups.
Group differences in network topology involved decreased global connectivity and hub-like properties for the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) and decreased local network connectivity for the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) among resilient individuals. Decreased local connectivity and increased hub-like properties of the left amygdala, decreased hub-like properties of the dACC and decreased local connectivity of the left vlPFC were observed among susceptible individuals. Regression analyses suggested that the severity of ELS (measured by self-report) correlated negatively with global connectivity and hub-like qualities for the left dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC).
These preliminary results suggest functional neural connectivity patterns specific to ELS exposure and resiliency versus susceptibility to the depressogenic effects of ELS exposure.
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