Posttraumatic stress disorder, symptoms, and white matter abnormalities among combat-exposed veterans

Kirstin Aschbacher, Synthia H. Mellon, Owen M. Wolkowitz, Clare Henn-Haase, Rachel Yehuda, Janine D. Flory, Linda M. Bierer, Duna Abu-Amara, Charles R. Marmar, Susanne G. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with abnormalities in functional connectivity of a specific cortico-limbic network; however, less is known about white matter abnormalities providing structural connections for this network. This study investigated whether the diagnosis and symptoms of PTSD are associated with alterations in fractional anisotropy (FA), an index reflecting white matter organization, across six, a priori-defined tracts. White matter FA was quantified by diffusion tensor imaging using 3 T-MRI among 57 male, combat-exposed veterans with no history of moderate to severe head injuries or current alcohol dependence: 31 met criteria for PTSD and 26 were demographically comparable, combat-exposed controls without PTSD. Clinician-administered and self-report questionnaires assessed PTSD severity, dissociation, and mood. PTSD + veterans had significantly higher FA than exposed controls in the superior fronto-occipital fasciculus (SFOF) and borderline higher FA in the anterior corona radiata (ACR) and cingulum (CGC), controlling for age and neurovascular comorbidities. When lifetime alcohol use disorders was included, only the association of PTSD with SFOF-FA remained significant. Among PTSD + veterans, higher SFOF-FA was associated with greater mood disturbance, dissociative symptoms, and re-experiencing, while lower FA of the uncinate fasciculus (UF) was associated with greater mood disturbance symptoms. Compared to combat-exposed controls without PTSD, veterans with PTSD exhibited higher white matter FA in the SFOF, and a similar tendency in the ACR and CGC, tracts involved in conflict-processing and spatial attention. Prior alcohol use might explain the associations of PTSD with ACR-FA and CGC-FA but not the association with SFOF-FA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)989-999
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)
  • Fractional anisotropy
  • PTSD
  • Structural connectivity
  • Trauma
  • White matter


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