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A reciprocal inhibition model of alternations between non-dissociative and dissociative states in patients with PTSD

By Toshinori Chiba, Kentaro Ide, Shuken Boku, Jessica E Taylor, Hiroyuki Toda, Tetsufumi Kanazawa, Sumie Kato, Yuka Horiuchi, Akitoyo Hishimoto, Toru Maruyama, Taisuke Yamamoto, Miyako Shirakawa, Ichiro Sora, Mitsuo Kawato, Ai Koizumi

Posted 08 Oct 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/795732

Objective: Traumatic life-events can leave individuals with contrasting posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, including re-experiencing and avoidance. Notably, patients with PTSD are known to periodically switch between two opposing attentional biases; namely, toward threat and away from threat. We hypothesized that reciprocal inhibition between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) may induce alternations between these attentional biases, which in turn may contribute to the re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms, respectively. Methods: To test this reciprocal inhibition model, we performed an experiment to measure the attentional biases of patients with PTSD. We examined the differential relationships between PTSD symptom clusters (re-experiencing/avoidance) and attentional biases (toward/away from threat). Additionally, we performed a meta-regression analysis to examine the role of amygdala reactivity in the imbalance between re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms. Results: We found that attentional bias toward threat was selectively associated with re-experiencing symptoms whereas attentional bias away from threat was selectively associated with avoidance symptoms. Meta-regression analysis based on twelve participant populations (total N = 316) revealed that left amygdala activity was positively correlated with the severity of re-experiencing symptoms relative to avoidance symptoms. Conclusions: Our findings support the hypothesis that reciprocal inhibition of common neural circuits may underlie the switch between attentional biases toward and away from threat as well as that between re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms. Re-experiencing and avoidance/emotional numbing are the core symptoms used to distinguish between the non-dissociative and dissociative PTSD subtypes. The reciprocal inhibition mechanism may help elucidate the mechanisms underlying those PTSD subtypes.

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