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Diminished rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation during trauma-unrelated emotional interference in PTSD

Reid Offringa12, Kathryn Handwerger Brohawn12, Lindsay K Staples12, Stacey J Dubois12, Katherine C Hughes2, Danielle L Pfaff1, Michael B VanElzakker12, F Caroline Davis12 and Lisa M Shin12*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA, USA

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Citation and License

Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2013, 3:10  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-3-10

Published: 14 May 2013



Previous research suggests that individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) preferentially attend to trauma-related emotional stimuli and have difficulty completing unrelated concurrent tasks. Compared to trauma-exposed control groups, individuals with PTSD also exhibit lower rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) activation during tasks involving interference from trauma-related stimuli. However, it is not clear whether relatively diminished rACC activation in PTSD also occurs during interference tasks involving trauma-unrelated emotional stimuli. The present study employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and an interference task that involves emotional facial expressions and elicits rACC activation in healthy participants.


While performing a trauma-unrelated emotional interference task, participants with PTSD (n=17) showed less rACC activation than trauma-exposed non-PTSD (TENP; n=18) participants. In the PTSD group, rACC activation was negatively correlated with the severity of re-experiencing symptoms. The two groups did not significantly differ on behavioral measures (i.e., response times and error rates).


These findings suggest that relatively diminished rACC activation in PTSD can be observed in interference tasks involving trauma-unrelated emotional stimuli, indicating a more general functional brain abnormality in this disorder. Future neuroimaging studies need not employ trauma-related stimuli in order to detect rACC abnormalities in PTSD.

fMRI; Stroop; Posttraumatic stress disorder; Anterior cingulate; Interference; Trauma