High-field MRI reveals an acute impact on brain function in survivors of the magnitude 8.0 earthquake in China

Su Lui, Xiaoqi Huang, Long Chen, Hehan Tang, Tijiang Zhang, Xiuli Li, Dongming Li, Weihong Kuang, Raymond C. Chan, Andrea Mechelli, John A. Sweeney, Qiyong Gong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Besides the enormous medical and economic consequences, national disasters, such as the Wenchuan 8.0 earthquake, also pose a risk to the mental health of survivors. In this context, a better understanding is needed of how functional brain systems adapt to severe emotional stress. Previous animal studies have demonstrated the importance of limbic, paralimbic, striatal, and prefrontal structures in stress and fear responses. Human studies, which have focused primarily on patients with clinically established posttraumatic stress disorders, have reported abnormalities in similar brain structures. At present, little is known about potential alterations of brain function in trauma survivors shortly after traumatic events. Here, we show alteration of brain function in a cohort of healthy survivors within 25 days after the Wenchuan earthquake by a recently discovered method known as "restingstate" functional MRI. The current investigation demonstrates that regional activity in frontolimbic and striatal areas increased significantly and connectivity among limbic and striatal networks was attenuated in our participants who had recently experienced severe emotional trauma. Trauma victims also had a reduced temporal synchronization within the "default mode" of resting-state brain function, which has been characterized in humans and other species. Taken together, our findings provide evidence that significant alterations in brain function, similar in many ways to those observed in posttraumatic stress disorders, can be seen shortly after major traumatic experiences, highlighting the need for early evaluation and intervention for trauma survivors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15412-15417
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 8 2009


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neuroimaging
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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