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Evidence for Acquired Pregenual Anterior Cingulate Gray Matter Loss from a Twin Study of Combat-related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder – Source: Biological Psychiatry, March 15, 2008

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Background: Controversy exists over the nature and origin of reduced regional brain volumes in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At issue is whether these reductions represent preexisting vulnerability factors for developing PTSD upon traumatic exposure or acquired PTSD signs due to the traumatic stress that caused the PTSD or the chronic stress of having the disorder (or both). We employed a case–control design in monozygotic twin pairs discordant for combat exposure to address the preexisting versus acquired origin of brain morphometric abnormalities in PTSD.

Methods: We used voxel-based morphometry to search for gray matter density reductions in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data obtained in a previous study of combat-exposed Vietnam veteran twins with (n = 18) versus without (n = 23) PTSD and their “high-risk” versus “low-risk” (respectively) identical combat-unexposed cotwins.


  • Compared with the combat-exposed twins without PTSD, the combat-exposed twins with PTSD showed significant gray matter density reductions in four predicted brain regions: right hippocampus, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and left and right insulae.
  • There was a significant PTSD Diagnosis × Combat Exposure interaction in pregenual ACC in which combat-exposed PTSD twins had lower gray matter density than their own combat-unexposed cotwins as well as than the combat-exposed twins without PTSD and their cotwins.

Conclusions: The results point to gray matter volume diminutions in limbic and paralimbic structures in PTSD. The pattern of results obtained for pregenual ACC suggests that gray matter reduction in this region represents an acquired sign of PTSD consistent with stress-induced loss.

Source: Biological Psychiatry, March 15, 2008. Vol 63, #6, pp. 550-556. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.06.022 by Kasai K, Yamasue H, Gilbertson MW, Senton ME, Rauch SL, Pitman RK. Department of Neuropsychiatry, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan; Research Service, VA Medical Center, Manchester, New Hampshire; Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, and Surgical Planning Laboratory, MRI Division, Department of Radiology, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Boston; McLean Hospital, Belmont; Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. [E-mail: roger_pitman@hms.harvard.edu]

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