Thalamic volume and fear extinction interact to predict acute posttraumatic stress severity

Elizabeth R. Steuber, Antonia V. Seligowski, Alyssa R. Roeckner, Mariam Reda, Lauren A.M. Lebois, Sanne J.H. van Rooij, Vishnu P. Murty, Timothy D. Ely, Steven E. Bruce, Stacey L. House, Francesca L. Beaudoin, Xinming An, Donglin Zeng, Thomas C. Neylan, Gari D. Clifford, Sarah D. Linnstaedt, Laura T. Germine, Scott L. Rauch, Christopher Lewandowski, Sophia SheikhChristopher W. Jones, Brittany E. Punches, Robert A. Swor, Meghan E. McGrath, Lauren A. Hudak, Jose L. Pascual, Anna M. Chang, Claire Pearson, David A. Peak, Robert M. Domeier, Brian J. O'Neil, Niels K. Rathlev, Leon D. Sanchez, Robert H. Pietrzak, Jutta Joormann, Deanna M. Barch, Diego A. Pizzagalli, James M. Elliott, Ronald C. Kessler, Karestan C. Koenen, Samuel A. McLean, Kerry J. Ressler, Tanja Jovanovic, Nathaniel G. Harnett, Jennifer S. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with lower gray matter volume (GMV) in brain regions critical for extinction of learned threat. However, relationships among volume, extinction learning, and PTSD symptom development remain unclear. We investigated subcortical brain volumes in regions supporting extinction learning and fear-potentiated startle (FPS) to understand brain-behavior interactions that may impact PTSD symptom development in recently traumatized individuals. Participants (N = 99) completed magnetic resonance imaging and threat conditioning two weeks following trauma exposure as part of a multisite observational study to understand the neuropsychiatric effects of trauma (AURORA Study). Participants completed self-assessments of PTSD (PTSD Checklist for DSM-5; PCL-5), dissociation, and depression symptoms two- and eight-weeks post-trauma. We completed multiple regressions to investigate relationships between FPS during late extinction, GMV, and PTSD symptom development. The interaction between thalamic GMV and FPS during late extinction at two weeks post-trauma predicted PCL-5 scores eight weeks (t (75) = 2.49, β = 0.28, p = 0.015) post-trauma. Higher FPS predicted higher PCL-5 scores in the setting of increased thalamic GMV. Meanwhile, lower FPS also predicted higher PCL-5 scores in the setting of decreased thalamic GMV. Thalamic GMV and FPS interactions also predicted posttraumatic dissociative and depressive symptoms. Amygdala and hippocampus GMV by FPS interactions were not associated with posttraumatic symptom development. Taken together, thalamic GMV and FPS during late extinction interact to contribute to adverse posttraumatic neuropsychiatric outcomes. Multimodal assessments soon after trauma have the potential to distinguish key phenotypes vulnerable to posttraumatic neuropsychiatric outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-332
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Extinction
  • Fear-potentiated startle
  • Gray matter volume
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Thalamus


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