Prior Sexual Trauma Exposure Impacts Posttraumatic Dysfunction and Neural Circuitry Following a Recent Traumatic Event in the AURORA Study

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Biol Psychiatry Glob Open Sci


BACKGROUND: Prior sexual trauma (ST) is associated with greater risk for posttraumatic stress disorder after a subsequent traumatic event; however, the underlying neurobiological mechanisms remain opaque. We investigated longitudinal posttraumatic dysfunction and amygdala functional dynamics following admission to an emergency department for new primarily nonsexual trauma in participants with and without previous ST.

METHODS: Participants (N = 2178) were recruited following acute trauma exposure (primarily motor vehicle collision). A subset (n = 242) completed magnetic resonance imaging that included a fearful faces task and a resting-state scan 2 weeks after the trauma. We investigated associations between prior ST and several dimensions of posttraumatic symptoms over 6 months. We further assessed amygdala activation and connectivity differences between groups with or without prior ST.

RESULTS: Prior ST was associated with greater posttraumatic depression (F(1,1120) = 28.35, p = 1.22 × 10(-7), η(p)(2) = 0.06), anxiety (F(1,1113) = 17.43, p = 3.21 × 10(-5), η(p)(2) = 0.05), and posttraumatic stress disorder (F(1,1027) = 11.34, p = 7.85 × 10(-4), η(p)(2) = 0.04) severity and more maladaptive beliefs about pain (F(1,1113) = 8.51, p = .004, η(p)(2) = 0.02) but was not related to amygdala reactivity to fearful versus neutral faces (all ps > .05). A secondary analysis revealed an interaction between ST and lifetime trauma load on the left amygdala to visual cortex connectivity (peak Z value: -4.41, corrected p < .02).

CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that prior ST is associated with heightened posttraumatic dysfunction following a new trauma exposure but not increased amygdala activity. In addition, ST may interact with lifetime trauma load to alter neural circuitry in visual processing regions following acute trauma exposure. Further research should probe the relationship between trauma type and visual circuitry in the acute aftermath of trauma.

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