Wars, earthquakes, major traffic accidents, and terrorist attacks may bring about profound spiritual pains, and even cause extreme fear and helplessness for people that have experienced or witnessed these unusual threats or disasters.

This persistent and constant mental disorder caused by psychological trauma is termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Can brain structural damage alter as symptoms improve?

As PTSD progresses, brain structure inevitably changes, however, no PTSD symptoms have been clearly described in previous PTSD imaging studies.

Understanding the brain areas highly involved in the improvement of PTSD symptoms will assist the judgment of PTSD patient prognosis.

Weihui Li and colleagues from the Second Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, China compared the difference in brain structure in 12 mine disaster survivors with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, 7 cases of improved post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and 14 controls who experienced the same mine disaster but did not suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, using the voxel-based morphometry method.

Their findings, published in the Neural Regeneration Research (Vol. 8, No. 26, 2013), indicate that (1) chronic post-traumatic stress disorder patients have gray matter structural damage in the prefrontal lobe, occipital lobe, and parietal lobe, (2) after post-traumatic stress, the disorder symptoms are improved and gray matter structural damage is reduced, but cannot recover to the trauma-control level, and (3) the superior parietal lobule is possibly associated with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.