Neuro-functional alterations due to PTSD after environmental disasters: fMRI evidence and clinical suggestions

L. Piccardi 1 , 2 , M. Boccia 2 , 3 , S. Colangeli 4 , F. Bianchini 2 , 3 , A. Marano 1 , A.M. Giannini 3 , M. Palmiero 1 , 2 , S. D’Amico 5

1 Department of Life, Health and Environmental Sciences, L’Aquila University, L’Aquila, Italy; 2 Neuropsychology Unit, IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy; 3 Department of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy; 4 Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy; 5 Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences, L’Aquila University, L’Aquila, Italy



The post-traumatic stress disorder is an important clinical challenge. The present work was aimed at assessing the specific neural network showing functional changes in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) as a consequence of a natural disaster.


To pursue this aim we will perform a meta-analysis of fMRI studies of PTSD after natural disasters using Activation likelihood estimation (ALE). Using ALE’s inclusion criteria, we selected 22 individual experiments investigating the PTSD due to natural disasters.


ALE analysis showed activation foci in superior and inferior frontal gyrus, insula and lingual gyrus in the right hemisphere. The PTSD due to natural disasters modifies a cerebral network involved in learning spatial sequences in the environmental space. This neuro-functional alteration suggests the presence of selective cognitive deficits in visuo-spatial and navigational memory that could reduce the individual’s capability to cope the emergency situation.

Discussion and conclusions

The PTSD due to natural disasters differs from that caused by other traumatic events altering in selective way the lingual gyrus, an important structure involved in topographical memory. This trauma-specific effect suggests the importance to develop specific treatment aimed at the PTSD’s resolution.

Key words

PTSD • Post-traumatic stress disorders • Psychological therapies focused on trauma • Emergency Psychology • Natural disaster • Earthquake • Topographical memory • Topographical orientation

Scarica il PDF