Incidental retrieval of emotional contexts in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression: an fMRI study

Matthew G Whalley, Michael D Rugg, Adam P R Smith, Raymond J Dolan, Chris R Brewin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


In the present study, we used fMRI to assess patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, and trauma-exposed controls, during an episodic memory retrieval task that included non-trauma-related emotional information. In the study phase of the task neutral pictures were presented in emotional or neutral contexts. Participants were scanned during the test phase, when they were presented with old and new neutral images in a yes/no recognition memory task. fMRI results for the contrast between old and new items revealed activation in a predominantly left-sided network of cortical regions including the left middle temporal, bilateral posterior cingulate, and left prefrontal cortices. Activity common to all three groups when correctly judging pictures encoded in emotional contexts was much more limited. Relative to the control and depressed groups the PTSD group exhibited greater sensitivity to correctly recognised stimuli in the left amygdala/ventral striatum and right occipital cortex, and more specific sensitivity to items encoded in emotional contexts in the right precuneus, left superior frontal gyrus, and bilateral insula. These results are consistent with a substantially intact neural system supporting episodic retrieval in patients suffering from PTSD. Moreover, there was little indication that PTSD is associated with a marked change in the way negatively valenced information, not of personal significance, is processed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-107
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009


  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Emotions
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Humans
  • Brain
  • Mental Recall
  • Depressive Disorder, Major
  • Brain Mapping
  • Recognition (Psychology)
  • Adult
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
  • Female
  • Male


Dive into the research topics of 'Incidental retrieval of emotional contexts in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression: an fMRI study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this