A new study was published in the journal Radiology, giving post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sufferers a new insight into the debilitating anxiety disorder. According to researchers, after reviewing MRI scans they noticed how children with PTSD have brain disruptions in the neural networks.
The China-based researchers utilized an MRI in order to observe brain structure in 24 pediatric patients suffering from PTSD, in addition to a control group of 23 with no prior history of PTSD. The reason for the PTSD in the 24 patients was one of the worst natural disasters in the Asian peninsula: the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The massive natural disaster caused catastrophic damage to southern China, killing over 70,000 people and injuring a massive 300,000 more.
At the beginning of the study, researchers hoped the PTSD symptoms would shed some light on abnormal brain activity in children. For those that do not know about PTSD, this mental illness can cause severe anxiety symptoms such as panic attacks, flashbacks, insomnia, among other things.
PTSD affects millions of people in the US every year and is particularly seen more in military veterans who’ve experienced combat missions. Although recent studies suggest that antipsychotics may help in treating these symptoms, most patients are still stuck with no “effective treatment” for the illness.
However, Chinese researchers aim to eliminate that very notion with this new study.
Generally, “children are vulnerable to the effects of PTSD, as the multiple neurochemical and hormonal effects associated with childhood trauma can lead to lasting changes in brain structure and function,” as PsyPost wrote.
Utilizing brain imaging can help scientists understand why these patients are particularly vulnerable and begin sooner than others.
Researchers also used an MRI technique called Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a hallmark tool to measure the integrity of the brain’s matter and to also analyze the brain’s connectome. After the neuro-connections in the brain were analyzed, the study’s lead author Qiyong Gon, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at West China Hospital of Sichuan University, took a detailed look at the brain activity and noticed a few things.
“Generally speaking, the structural connectome and the functional connectome are based on different types of raw images, which may be used to investigate the brain’s abnormalities through different views,” Dr. Gong said.
As a result, researchers were able to find distinct structural changes between the PTSD and non-PTSD groups, based on the DTI results and graph theory.
It was quickly noted that the PTSD group showed changes in decreased local and global network efficiency because of possible damage to linked regions of the brain. Although the human brain normally operates using a small-world network, which is a way of parallel information transfer that is crucial for brain function, PTSD patients had a different outcome.
As the findings showed, the structural connectome showed a trend toward regularization: when a neural network moves from a small-world to a more regular network. A regular network is more localized and therefore takes more steps to reach distant nodes. Additionally, there were changes also observed in the salience network, where researchers believe could provide clinicians with a new understanding of treatment for pediatric PTSD patients.
Dr. Gong also stated, “These abnormalities suggest that PTSD can be better understood by examining the dysfunction of large-scale spatially distributed neural networks.”
As researchers continue to build on what they just accomplished, treatment for PTSD sufferers looks to be more promising for the future. More brain scans are expected as researchers continue to study the brain’s neuro networks.