As part of the study researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, to compare brain activation patterns in 16 children with symptoms of PTSD with the patterns seen in 14 age- and gender-matched non-traumatized children as they performed a simple decision-making task.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a term for certain severe psychological consequences of exposure to, or confrontation with, stressful events that the person experiences as highly traumatic.
The fMRI analysis detects changes in blood flow and oxygenation that correlate with increased neuronal activity in different regions of the brain.
The study found that children with PTSD used different parts of their brains to accomplish the task. There was less activity in their left middle frontal cortex, an area known to be involved in response inhibition, than their non-traumatized peers and more activity in several other areas of the brain including a region involved in emotional awareness known as the insula.
"Now we can see some real neurological reasons for the impulsivity, agitation, hyper-vigilance and avoidance behaviors that children with untreated PTSD often exhibit. The fact that their brains appear to be working differently may indicate a deficit for which other areas of the brain are trying to compensate," Carrion said.
The findings of the study were published online in the journal Depression and Anxiety.