Brain structure, function, and connectivity changes associated with improved clinical outcomes in veterans with PTSD



Mariko Weber

Mariko Weber

Research Mentor:

Dr. Ayse Berger


Clinical Co-Mentor:

Dr. Heidi Roth

Department Neurobiology
Project Description:

It is estimated that up to half of all military service members with combat-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) also meet criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). TBI and PTSD are both characterized by deficits in multiple cognitive domains, including attention, executive function, and affective and cognitive control. Cognitive and effective deficits associated with TBI are compounded by the presence of PTSD symptoms in returning veterans. The combination of PTSD and TBI in veterans is further associated with problems with anger and violence, which are common complaints of veterans seeking mental health services post-deployment and predict poor outcome treatments in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. These cognitive deficits veterans face after returning home from war are very debilitating and make it extremely difficult for them to integrate back into normal everyday life.  One of the projects clinical co-mentors Dr. Eric Elbogen of Psychiatry has developed clinical interventions that significantly improve cognition in veterans. However, there is currently no data about the neurological bases of these improvements.

The goal of my research is to characterize the brain structure, function, and connectivity changes associated with improved clinical outcomes. Examination of neural changes associated with the clinical intervention will be examined using EEG and fMRI, under the supervision of my supervisor and PI Dr. Aysenil Belger, Professor and Director of Neuroimaging Research. To our knowledge this is the first attempt to integrate neurobiological and neurocognitive methods with the proposed clinical intervention in veterans with PTSD and TBI. I am also working with Dr. Heidi Roth in Neurology in order to gain exposure to the clinical assessment of TBI and associated cognitive deficits. In addition to teaching me the fundamentals underlying clinical neurology, I shadow Dr. Roth in clinic while neurologic examinations of patients are performed while learning about the tools that are used for cognitive assessment in TBI populations.