Researching Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that may develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which severe physical harm occurred or was threatened (Psychology Today). An estimated 7.7 million Americans suffer from PTSD; members of the military who were involved in combat are particularly susceptible.

Current PTSD research reveals that up to half of military service members who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries also suffer from PTSD.

Funded by a grant from the Foundation of Hope, in 2011 UNC psychiatrists Eric Elbogen and Aysenil Belger sought to characterize brain function impairments associated with cognitive control and emotion regulation in war veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from PTSD.

What is the purpose of this study?

IMG_9237copyCOLORThe researchers studied the frontal and limbic regions of the brain (the regions that control cognition and emotion regulation) to determine a percentage of change from a “normally functioning” dataset. Researchers hoped that, once certain brain impairments were identified and characterized in PTSD veterans, specific neural mechanisms could be targeted for intervention.

What Does this Mean for PTSD Treatment?

Parts of the brain that are affected by PTSD are linked to emotional processing, decision-making, and inhibitory control.

Drs. Belger and Elbogen posited that issues with cognitive control are strongly related to the hostility and aggression that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were particularly prone to encounter during their service. Their study was designed to home in on specific sections of the brain affected by PTSD, making headway into more efficient diagnoses and more effective treatments for PTSD patients all over the world.

Meet the Researchers

Eric Elbogen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UNC, is a forensic psychologist who conducts both clinical work and empirical research at the intersection of law and mental health services, with a particular focus on military veterans. Dr. Elbogen is one of the country’s foremost researchers of PTSD.

Aysenil Belger, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry at UNC, is the Director of Neuroimaging Research in Psychiatry. Her research targets higher-order executive functions of the brain as well as the breakdown in these functions in neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopment disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

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