A link between increased circuit activity in the right side brain and the debilitating, random flashbacks triggered by post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has been discovered by University of Minnesota Medical School and Minneapolis Veterans Affair Medical Center, said a spokesperson for the Academic Health Center.
The ability to diagnose PTSD through definite evidence of neural activity, as well as its impact and its manifestation is the genesis of helping those afflicted with the high-anxiety disorder.
PTSD regularly stems from emotional or physical war trauma. It can be caused by exposure to any type of psychologically traumatic event. It can manifest itself in flashbacks, recurring nightmares, anger or hyper-vigilance.
A non-invasive method called Magnetoencephalography (MEG) found differences between signals in the temporal and parieto-occipital right hemispheric areas of the brain among those with PTSD.
The temporal cortex is believed to be responsible for the re-living of past experiences.
Apostolos Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., and Brian Engdahl., Ph.D., both members of the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and University of Minnesota - were published today in the Journal of Neural Engineering. It's a major scientific and medical discovery, Georgopoulos said, because the MEG tests reveal a clear difference in activity among the circuitry in the brains of PTSD sufferers in comparison to those without the condition. The findings are something conventional brain scans such as an X-ray, CT, or MRI have failed to demonstrate. Besides diagnosing those with PTSD, the researchers also are able to determine severity of a patient's suffering, which means the MEG may be able to be used to gauge the how badly patients are impacted by other brain disorders.
"Having a diagnostic exam capable of confirming post-traumatic stress disorder is critical in treating these patients properly," Georgopoulos said.
During the study, scientists found the brains of PTSD sufferers were in the hyperactive state without any immediate external stimulation, evidence found through trial subjects being purposefully put into a "task-free state."
This finding is significant because it confirms that PTSD sufferers can relive terrifying memories at any moment regardless of what they are doing.
"Remarkably, the differences we found between the PTSD and the control groups were documented in a task-free state. Without evoking traumatic experiences, and therefore, reflects the status of steady-state neuronal interactions," Georgopoulos said.
The trial involved 80 subjects with confirmed PTSD, many of whom suffer the affliction following military service in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq; 18 subjects in PTSD remission; and 284 healthy subjects.
All participants were required to wear the MEG helmet while fixating on a spot 65 cm in front of them for 60 seconds.
The research is one further step in the attempt to 'biomark' PTSD, particularly as the results gathered from subjects in remission followed a similar but less pronounced pattern to those with PTSD confirmed as their primary diagnosis, in contrast to the healthy subjects. This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.