Data_Sheet_1_Scene Construction and Spatial Processing in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.pdf (419.94 kB)
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Data_Sheet_1_Scene Construction and Spatial Processing in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.pdf

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posted on 2022-06-29, 14:00 authored by Hannah Marlatte, Derek Beaton, Sarah Adler-Luzon, Lina Abo-Ahmad, Asaf Gilboa

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with hippocampal system structural and functional impairments. Neurobiological models of PTSD posit that contextual memory for traumatic events is impaired due to hippocampal system dysfunction whilst memory of sensory details is enhanced due to amygdalar impact on sensory cortices. If hippocampal system dysfunction is a core feature of PTSD, then non-traumatic hippocampal-dependent cognitive functions such as scene construction, spatial processing, and memory should also be impaired in individuals with PTSD.


Forty-six trauma survivors, half diagnosed with PTSD, performed two tasks that involved spatial processing. The first was a scene construction task which requires conjuring-up spatially coherent multimodal scenarios, completed by all participants. Twenty-six participants (PTSD: n = 13) also completed a navigation task in a virtual environment, and underwent structural T1, T2 and diffusion-tensor MRI to quantify gray and white matter integrity. We examined the relationship between spatial processing, neural integrity, and symptom severity in a multiple factor analysis.


Overall, patients with PTSD showed impaired performance in both tasks compared to controls. Scenes imagined by patients were less vivid, less detailed, and generated less sense of presence; importantly they had disproportionally reduced spatial coherence between details. Patients also made more errors during virtual navigation. Two components of the multiple factor analysis captured group differences. The first component explained 25% of the shared variance: participants that constructed less spatially coherent scenes also made more navigation errors and had reduced white matter integrity to long association tracts and tracts connecting the hippocampus, thalamus, and cingulate. The second component explained 20% of the variance: participants who generated fewer scene details, with less spatial coherence between them, had smaller hippocampal, parahippocampal and isthmus cingulate volumes. These participants also had increased white matter integrity to the right hippocampal cingulum bundle.


Our results suggest that patients with PTSD are impaired at imagining even neutral spatially coherent scenes and navigating through a complex spatial environment. Patients that showed reduced spatial processing more broadly had reduced hippocampal systems volumes and abnormal white matter integrity to tracts implicated in multisensory integration.