Macro- and microstructural gray matter alterations in sexually assaulted women

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Abstract

Background: Studies with trauma survivors documented structural alterations in brain regions involved in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) neurocircuitry. Nonetheless, whether such alterations exist in women who were sexually assaulted in adulthood is not clear. We investigated the macro- and microstructure of key regions implicated in PTSD pathophysiology, namely the amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and insula, in this population. Methods: Thirty-eight sexually assaulted women (PTSD, n = 25; non-PTSD, n = 13) and 24 non-exposed controls (NEC) were studied with T1- and diffusion-weighted MRI. Gray matter volume, mean diffusivity (MD), and fractional anisotropy (FA) were calculated for each region. Between-group comparisons and correlations with PTSD symptom severity were performed. Results: Volumetric analyses revealed lower amygdala and insula volumes in the PTSD compared with the non-PTSD group. In contrast, altered microstructure was observed in both traumatized groups compared with NEC, including higher MD and lower FA in the right amygdala, and higher FA in the ACC bilaterally. Finally, the non-PTSD group had higher FA in the right insula compared with the PTSD group. PTSD symptom severity was correlated with amygdala and insula volumes, as well as with hippocampal FA and MD. Limitations: Sample size may have led to reduced statistical power. Conclusions: Sexual assault and the development of PTSD in women are linked with structural alterations in key regions implicated in PTSD following other trauma types (e.g., combat), though hippocampal and ACC volumes were preserved. Further studies are needed to disentangle the unique contribution of trauma type and of sex/gender to these observations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-204
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume262
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020

Keywords

  • Diffusion-weighted imaging
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Sex/gender
  • Sexual assault

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