Attention allocation to negatively-valenced stimuli in PTSD is associated with reward-related neural pathways

Benjamin Suarez-Jimenez, Amit Lazarov*, Xi Zhu, Daniel S. Pine, Yair Bar-Haim, Yuval Neria

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background In a recent eye-tracking study we found a differential dwell time pattern for negatively-valenced and neutral faces among patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma-exposed healthy control (TEHCs), and healthy control (HC) participants. Here, we explored whether these group differences relate to resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) patterns of brain areas previously linked to both attention processes and PTSD. These encompass the amygdala, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC), and nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Methods Ten minutes magnetic resonance imaging rsFC scans were recorded in 17 PTSD patients, 21 TEHCs, and 16 HCs. Participants then completed a free-viewing eye-tracking task assessing attention allocation outside the scanner. Dwell time on negatively-valenced stimuli (DT%) were assessed relative to functional connectivity in the aforementioned seed regions of interest (amygdala, dACC, dlPFC, vlPFC, and NAcc) to whole-brain voxel-wise rsFC. Results As previously reported, group differences occurred in attention allocation to negative-valence stimuli, with longer dwell time on negatively valence stimuli in the PTSD and TEHC groups than the HC group. Higher DT% correlated with weaker NAcc-orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) connectivity in patients with PTSD. Conversely, a positive association emerged in the HC group between DT% and NAcc-OFC connectivity. Conclusions While exploratory in nature, present findings may suggest that reward-related brain areas are involved in disengaging attention from negative-valenced stimuli, and possibly in regulating ensuing negative emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4666-4674
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2 Jul 2023


FundersFunder number
National Institute of Mental HealthK01MH122774, K01MH118428, R01MH105355, T32-MH020004
Israel Science FoundationUR002611, 374/20


    • Attention allocation
    • PTSD
    • eye-tracking
    • resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC)
    • reward functioning
    • trauma-exposure


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