Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe type of anxiety disorder that can occur after an individual experiences a traumatic event. However, at present, doctors are unable to predict who will develop these disorders. Now, a new study seeks to identify individuals who are more susceptible to long-standing disorders if exposed to a traumatic event.

The study is published in the journals Brain Connectivity and Neuroimage and initial findings from the study were presented at the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference.

The study was conducted by Professor Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv Universities’ (TAU) School of Psychological Sciences, the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the new Sagol School of Neuroscience, together with Professor Nathan Intrator of TAU’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) in order to examine regions in the brain that control how an individual responds to traumatic stress. The team then decode the brain functionality which indicates pre- or post trauma psychopathology.

According to the researchers, this novel approach to probing the susceptible brain is powerful and provides continuous monitoring tailored to each person.

This ongoing research was carried out at the Functional Brain Center in collaboration with the Wohl Institute for Advanced Imaging at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Healthcare providers are more likely to be able to treat PTSD if the disorder is diagnosed earlier and more accurately. Findings from this study could be used to monitor individuals who are more susceptible to developing these disorders, such as soldiers in combat units.

Understanding how the brain encodes and regulates emotions is vital in order to diagnose and treat mental disorders. For instance, examining certain combinations of activities in emotional and cognitive brain regions may better indicate how vulnerable an individual is to traumatic disorders rather than examining these brain regions separately.

In order to examine the interactions between brain regions, the researchers simultaneously used EEG and fMRI on study participants. The team then recorded the connections between the emotional and cognitive regions of the brain while participants were exposed to continuous stimulations designed to cause stress, sadness, and horror.

The team then used advanced computational algorithms in order to identify the brain activity linked to the reported emotional experience. According to the researchers, this brain marking will provide targets for treatment procedures tailored to an individuals’ brain activity.

The researchers hope that these experiments will improve their ability to read emotional states in the brain. In addition, the team hope that in the future they will be able to read results obtained by EEG alone.

Professor Intrator’s goal is to develop a portable brain monitoring machine that will “enable the detection or quantification of the emotional state of people suffering from trauma, allowing for minimally invasive monitoring or diagnosis.”

Professor Intrator is currently working on using this technology for the diagnosis of other psychological disorders, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), depression, and schizophrenia. For instance in ADD, this technique could be used to monitor a patients’ concentration levels and provide feedback that could assist in controlling the patients medicinal needs, such as the dosage or Ritalin.

Written By Grace Rattue