The neural dynamics of deficient memory control in heavily traumatized refugees

Victims of war, torture and natural catastrophes are prone to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These individuals experience the recurrent, involuntary intrusion of traumatic memories. What neurocognitive mechanisms are driving this memory disorder?

Here we show that PTSD symptoms in heavily traumatized refugees are related to deficits in the effective control of memory retrieval. In a think/no-think task, PTSD patients were unable to forget memories that they had previously tried to suppress when compared to control participants with the same trauma history but without PTSD. Deficits in voluntary forgetting were clinically relevant since they correlated with memory intrusions in everyday life. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) recorded during suppression attempts revealed that PTSD patients were unable to downregulate signatures of sensory long-term memory traces in the gamma frequency band (70–120 Hz).

Thus, our data suggest that the inability to suppress unwanted memories through modulation of gamma activity is related to PTSD symptom severity.

Gerd T. Waldhauser, Martin J. Dahl, Martina Ruf-Leuschner, Veronika Müller-Bamouh, Maggie Schauer, Nikolai Axmacher, Thomas Elbert & Simon Hanslmayr | 2018
In: Scientific Reports, ISSN 2045-2322 | 8 | Article number 13132
Brain Imaging, Cognitive Processes, Neurobiology, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD (DSM-5), Refugees, Traumatic memories