Cortical complexity in world trade center responders with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder

Minos Kritikos, Sean A.P. Clouston, Chuan Huang, Alison C. Pellecchia, Stephanie Mejia-Santiago, Melissa A. Carr, Roman Kotov, Roberto G. Lucchini, Samuel E. Gandy, Evelyn J. Bromet, Benjamin J. Luft

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7 Scopus citations


Approximately 23% of World Trade Center (WTC) responders are experiencing chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with their exposures at the WTC following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, which has been demonstrated to be a risk factor for cognitive impairment raising concerns regarding their brain health. Cortical complexity, as measured by analyzing Fractal Dimension (FD) from T1 MRI brain images, has been reported to be reduced in a variety of psychiatric and neurological conditions. In this report, we hypothesized that FD would be also reduced in a case-control sample of 99 WTC responders as a result of WTC-related PTSD. The results of our surface-based morphometry cluster analysis found alterations in vertex clusters of complexity in WTC responders with PTSD, with marked reductions in regions within the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortices, in addition to whole-brain absolute bilateral and unilateral complexity. Furthermore, region of interest analysis identified that the magnitude of changes in regional FD severity was associated with increased PTSD symptoms (reexperiencing, avoidance, hyperarousal, negative affect) severity. This study confirms prior findings on FD and psychiatric disorders and extends our understanding of FD associations with posttraumatic symptom severity. The complex and traumatic experiences that led to WTC-related PTSD were associated with reductions in cortical complexity. Future work is needed to determine whether reduced cortical complexity arose prior to, or concurrently with, onset of PTSD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number597
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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