Posttraumatic stress disorder: The role of medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala

Michael Koenigs, Jordan Grafman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by recurrent distressing memories of an emotionally traumatic event. In this review, the authors present neuroscientific data highlighting the function of two brain areas - the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)-in PTSD and related emotional processes. A convergent body of human and nonhuman studies suggests that the amygdala mediates the acquisition and expression of conditioned fear and the enhancement of emotional memory, whereas the vmPFC mediates the extinction of conditioned fear and the volitional regulation of negative emotion. It has been theorized that the vmPFC exerts inhibition on the amygdala, and that a defect in this inhibition could account for the symptoms of PTSD. This theory is supported by functional imaging studies of PTSD patients, who exhibit hypoactivity in the vmPFC but hyperactivity in the amygdala. A recent study of brain-injured and trauma-exposed combat veterans confirms that amygdala damage reduces the likelihood of developing PTSD. But contrary to the prediction of the top-down inhibition model, vmPFC damage also reduces the likelihood of developing PTSD. The putative roles of the amygdala and the vmPFC in the pathophysiology of PTSD, as well as implications for potential treatments, are discussed in light of these results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)540-548
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Amygdala
  • Emotion
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology


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