The aftermath of 9/11: Effect of intensity and recency of trauma on outcome
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
September 11 Terrorist Attacks
Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
Does trauma exposure have a long-term impact on the brain and behavior of healthy individuals? The authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess the impact of proximity to the disaster of September 11, 2001, on amygdala function in 22 healthy adults. More than three years after the terrorist attacks, bilateral amygdala activity in response to viewing fearful faces compared to calm ones was higher in people who were within 1.5 miles of the World Trade Center on 9/11, relative to those who were living more than 200 miles away (all were living in the New York metropolitan area at time of scan). This activity mediated the relationship between group status and current symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. In turn, the effect of group status on both amygdala activation (fearful vs. calm faces) and current symptoms was statistically explained by time since worst trauma in lifetime and intensity of worst trauma, as indicated by reported symptoms at time of the trauma. These data are consistent with a model of heightened amygdala reactivity following high-intensity trauma exposure, with relatively slow recovery.