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Study finds executive functioning may contribute to chronic PTSD

PRESS RELEASE

June 28, 2022

BOSTON , MA — Individuals with PTSD and significant impairments in executive functioning had more chronic PTSD over time and showed more disrupted connectivity in areas of the brain important for regulating thoughts and emotions, according to a study published June 27 in Translational Psychiatry.

“Our work indicates that executive functioning may affect how people recover from PTSD, and that those with cognitive impairments may have unique needs that may not be met with current treatments,” said Dr. Audreyana Jagger-Rickels, lead author for the study, a post-doctoral fellow at the National Center for PTSD, and researcher with Boston Attention and Learning Lab, VA Boston HCS and Boston University.

The study by researchers at the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School included 368 Veterans who had been deployed to post-9/11 conflicts from the Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders at VA Boston. Veterans completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scan to measure communication between brain networks at rest. Participants also completed tests that measure post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and executive functioning. Many of the Veterans also completed a second assessment around two years later, to see who recovered and who experienced more chronic, long-lasting PTSD. Researchers investigated differences in brain connectivity and differences in PTSD two years later, comparing those with impaired and better executive functions.

“Ultimately, we hope our work will lead to developing new interventions targeting executive functions and the underlying brain systems,” Jagger-Rickels added. “For example, treating executive functioning deficits with cognitive training, brain stimulation or pharmacotherapies, potentially in concert with evidence-based PTSD treatments, may improve outcomes for Veterans and others who are dealing with chronic PTSD.”

The study is available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-022-02011-y

 

Image caption (image linked below): Veterans with impaired executive functioning and chronic PTSD had disrupted connectivity between brain networks involved in regulating thoughts and emotions, according to a study published June 27, 2022, in Translational Psychiatry by researchers at the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School. Orange and red indicate brain regions involved in regulating thoughts and emotion, and green and tan indicate brain regions involved in emotion processing. (Study image courtesy of Dr. Audreyana Jagger-Rickels)

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