Abstract:

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with executive functioning deficits, including disruptions in working memory (WM). Recent studies suggest that attention training reduces PTSD symptomatology, but the underlying neural mechanisms are unknown. We used high-density magnetoencephalography (MEG) to evaluate whether attention training modulates brain regions serving WM processing in PTSD. Fourteen veterans with PTSD completed a WM task during a 306-sensor MEG recording before and after 8 sessions of attention training treatment. A matched comparison sample of 12 combat-exposed veterans without PTSD completed the same WM task during a single MEG session. To identify the spatiotemporal dynamics, each group’s data were transformed into the time-frequency domain, and significant oscillatory brain responses were imaged using a beamforming approach. All participants exhibited activity in left hemispheric language areas consistent with a verbal WM task. Additionally, veterans with PTSD and combat-exposed healthy controls each exhibited oscillatory responses in right hemispheric homologue regions (e.g., right Broca’s area); however, these responses were in opposite directions. Group differences in oscillatory activity emerged in the theta band (4–8 Hz) during encoding and in the alpha band (9–12 Hz) during maintenance and were significant in right prefrontal and right supramarginal and inferior parietal regions. Importantly, following attention training, these significant group differences were reduced or eliminated. This study provides initial evidence that attention training improves aberrant neural activity in brain networks serving WM processing.

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