Prefrontal responses to digit span memory phases in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A functional near infrared spectroscopy study

Fenghua Tian, Amarnath Yennu, Alexa Smith-Osborne, F. Gonzalez-Lima, Carol S North, Hanli Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Scopus citations


Neuroimaging studies of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related memory impairments have consistently implicated abnormal activities in the frontal and parietal lobes. However, most studies have used block designs and could not dissociate the multiple phases of working memory. In this study, the involvement of the prefrontal cortex in working memory phases was assessed among veterans with PTSD and age-/gender-matched healthy controls. Multichannel functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was utilized to measure prefrontal cortex hemodynamic activations during memory of neutral (i.e., not trauma-related) forward and backward digit span tasks. An event-related experimental design was utilized to dissociate the different phases (i.e., encoding, maintenance and retrieval) of working memory. The healthy controls showed robust hemodynamic activations during the encoding and retrieval processes. In contrast, the veterans with PTSD were found to have activations during the encoding process, but followed by distinct deactivations during the retrieval process. The PTSD participants, but not the controls, appeared to suppress prefrontal activity during memory retrieval. This deactivation was more pronounced in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the retrieval phase. These deactivations in PTSD patients might implicate an active inhibition of dorsolateral prefrontal neural activity during retrieval of working memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)808-819
Number of pages12
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Publication statusPublished - 2014



  • Digit span
  • Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)
  • Hemispheric emotional valence (HEV)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Topography
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology

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