Research in brain responses

Breakthrough Study Reveals Distinct Brain Responses to Traumatic Memories in PTSD

In a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Yale University, new insights into the nature of traumatic memories associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have emerged.

The findings, published recently in scientific journal, Nature Neuroscience, shed light on how the brain processes and stores traumatic memories differently from sad or neutral memories, opening avenues for potential advancements in PTSD, and ultimately C-PTSD, treatments.

The study focused on a small group of people diagnosed with PTSD, and examined real-life personal memories rather than relying on basic cognitive tests normally used. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while recalling scripted traumatic memories associated with their PTSD, alongside sad and calm memories. The study’s key revelation is the distinctive brain responses triggered by traumatic memories compared to sad ones.

Unlike sad memories, which activated the hippocampus (a region associated with regular memory) traumatic memories created reactions in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), a brain area not traditionally linked to memory functions. This unprecedented insight challenges the previous assumptions about the nature of traumatic memories, suggesting that they may be a separate cognitive entity, possibly explaining their intrusive and vivid nature in people with PTSD.

According to senior author Daniela Schiller, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine, traumatic memories in PTSD often feel like a present experience rather than a distant recollection. This distinctive brain activation observed in the PCC corresponds to the intrusive and emotionally charged nature of traumatic memories.

The implications of this research are profound for PTSD treatment. Conventional therapy often focuses on constructing a clear narrative from fragmented traumatic memories. However, these findings encourage a paradigm shift, viewing trauma more as an experience than a memory. The study suggests a new therapeutic approach that aims to change the experience of recalling traumatic memories rather than modifying them as traditional methods attempt.

Schiller notes that this approach provides a clearer target for treatment and facilitates measurable changes in brain activity before and after therapeutic interventions. While the study’s findings are preliminary, Schiller emphasises the importance of further research with larger groups and expanded examination of real-life personal memories.

The new study gives us hope for better treatments for PTSD and C-PTSD. It shows that researchers are learning more about these conditions, and this gives us hope for better ways to understand, treat, and overcome the challenges of trauma-related disorders. As scientists keep exploring how the brain reacts to trauma, there’s a growing chance of finding new therapies that can lead to better results for people with PTSD and C-PTSD.


Photo by Anna Shvets

Hello! Did you find this information useful?

Please consider supporting PTSD UK with a donation to enable us to provide more information & resources to help us to support everyone affected by PTSD, no matter the trauma that caused it


You’ll find up-to-date news, research and information here along with some great tips to ease your PTSD in our blog.

Rebellious Rebirth – Oran: Guest Blog

Rebellious Rebirth – Oran: Guest Blog In this moving guest blog, PTSD UK Supporter Oran shares her personal story after a traumatic event brought childhood traumas to the surface. Dealing with Complex PTSD, Oran found solace in grounding techniques and

Read More »

Ralph Fiennes – Trigger Warnings Response

Guest Blog: Response to Ralph Fiennes – Trigger warnings in theatres This thought-provoking article has been written for PTSD UK by one of our supporters, Alex C, and addresses Ralph Fiennes’ recent remarks on trigger warnings in Theatre. Alex sheds

Read More »

Please don’t tell me I’m brave

Guest Blog: Living With PTSD – Please don’t tell me I’m brave ‘Adapting to living in the wake of trauma can mean maybe you aren’t ready to hear positive affirmations, and that’s ok too.’ and at PTSD UK, we wholeheartedly

Read More »

Emotional Flashbacks – Rachel

Emotional Flashbacks: Putting Words to a Lifetime of Confusing Feelings PTSD UK was founded with the desire to do what was possible to make sure nobody ever felt as alone, isolated or helpless as our Founder did in the midst

Read More »

Morning Mile March Challenge

events | walk PTSD UK’s Morning Mile March Challenge Sign up now PTSD UK’s Morning Mile March Challenge The challenge We all know ‘exercise is good for you’, and even a small amount can make a big difference. There are

Read More »

PTSD UK Supporters Store

100% of the profits from everything in our online Supporters Store goes directly to our mission – to help everyone affected by PTSD in the UK, no matter the trauma that caused it.

Treatments for PTSD

It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.