Compelling evidence that exposure therapy for PTSD normalizes brain function

Michael J. Roy*, Michelle E. Costanzo, James R. Blair, Albert A. Rizzo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is helping us better understand the neurologic pathways involved in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We previously reported that military service members with PTSD after deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan demonstrated significant improvement, or normalization, in the fMRI-measured activation of the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus following exposure therapy for PTSD. However, our original study design did not include repeat scans of control participants, rendering it difficult to discern how much of the observed normalization in brain activity is attributable to treatment, rather than merely a practice effect. Using the same Affective Stroop task paradigm, we now report on a larger sample of PTSD-positive combat veterans that we treated with exposure therapy, as well as a combat-exposed control group of service members who completed repeat scans at 3-4 month intervals. Findings from the treatment group are similar to our prior report. Combat controls showed no significant change on repeat scanning, indicating that the observed differences in the intervention group were in fact due to treatment. We continue to scan additional study participants, in order to determine whether virtual reality exposure therapy has a different impact on regional brain activation than other therapies for PTSD.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnnual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine 2014
Subtitle of host publicationPositive Change: Connecting the Virtual and the Real
PublisherIOS Press
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781614994015
ISBN (Print)9781614994008
StatePublished - 30 May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Combat stress
  • Exposure therapy
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Vrtual reality


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