Persistent and reversible consequences of combat stress on the mesofrontal circuit and cognition

Guido A. Van Wingen, Elbert Geuze, Matthan W.A. Caan, Tamás Kozicz, Silvia D. Olabarriaga, Damiaan Denys, Eric Vermetten, Guillén Fernández

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Prolonged stress can have long-lasting effects on cognition. Animal models suggest that deficits in executive functioning could result from alterations within the mesofrontal circuit. We investigated this hypothesis in soldiers before and after deployment to Afghanistan and a control group using functional and diffusion tensor imaging. Combat stress reduced midbrain activity and integrity, which was associated to compromised sustained attention. Long-term follow-up showed that the functional and structural changes had normalized within 1.5 y. In contrast, combat stress induced a persistent reduction in functional connectivity between the midbrain and prefrontal cortex. These results demonstrate that combat stress has adverse effects on the human mesofrontal circuit and suggests that these alterations are partially reversible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15508-15513
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 18 2012


  • Dopamine
  • Functional MRI
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Prospective
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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