Opponent Effects of Hyperarousal and Re-experiencing on Affective Habituation in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Katherine L. McCurry, B. Christopher Frueh, Pearl H. Chiu, Brooks King-Casas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Background: Aberrant emotion processing is a hallmark of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with neurobiological models suggesting both heightened neural reactivity and diminished habituation to aversive stimuli. However, empirical work suggests that these response patterns may be specific to subsets of those with PTSD. This study investigates the unique contributions of PTSD symptom clusters (re-experiencing, avoidance and numbing, and hyperarousal) to neural reactivity and habituation to negative stimuli in combat-exposed veterans. Methods: Ninety-five combat-exposed veterans (46 with PTSD) and 53 community volunteers underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while viewing emotional images. This study examined the relationship between symptom cluster severity and hemodynamic responses to negative compared with neutral images (NEG>NEU). Results: Veterans exhibited comparable mean and habituation-related responses for NEG>NEU, relative to civilians. However, among veterans, habituation, but not mean response, was differentially related to PTSD symptom severity. Hyperarousal symptoms were related to decreased habituation for NEG>NEU in a network of regions, including superior and inferior frontal gyri, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, superior and middle temporal gyri, and anterior insula. In contrast, re-experiencing symptoms were associated with increased habituation in a similar network. Furthermore, re-experiencing severity was positively related to amygdalar functional connectivity with the left inferior frontal gyrus and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex for NEG>NEU. Conclusions: These results indicate that hyperarousal symptoms in combat-related PTSD are associated with decreased neural habituation to aversive stimuli. These impairments are partially mitigated in the presence of re-experiencing symptoms, such that during exposure to negative stimuli, re-experiencing symptoms are positively associated with amygdalar connectivity to prefrontal regions implicated in affective suppression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-212
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • Affective neuroscience
  • Emotion
  • Habituation
  • Heterogeneity
  • PTSD
  • fMRI
  • Amygdala
  • United States
  • Veterans
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic/physiopathology
  • Arousal
  • Adult
  • Female

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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