White matter microstructural changes as vulnerability factors and acquired signs of post-earthquake distress

Atsushi Sekiguchi, Motoaki Sugiura, Yasuyuki Taki, Yuka Kotozaki, Rui Nouchi, Hikaru Takeuchi, Tsuyoshi Araki, Sugiko Hanawa, Seishu Nakagawa, Carlos Makoto Miyauchi, Atsushi Sakuma, Ryuta Kawashima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Many survivors of severe disasters need psychological support, even those not suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The critical issue in understanding the psychological response after experiencing severe disasters is to distinguish neurological microstructural underpinnings as vulnerability factors from signs of emotional distress acquired soon after the stressful life event. We collected diffusion-tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) data from a group of healthy adolescents before the Great East Japan Earthquake and re-examined the DTIs and anxiety levels of 30 non-PTSD subjects from this group 3-4 months after the earthquake using voxel-based analyses in a longitudinal DTI study before and after the earthquake. We found that the state anxiety level after the earthquake was negatively associated with fractional anisotropy (FA) in the right anterior cingulum (Cg) before the earthquake (r = -0.61, voxel level p<0.0025, cluster level p<0.05 corrected), and positively associated with increased FA changes from before to after the earthquake in the left anterior Cg (r = 0.70, voxel level p<0.0025, cluster level p<0.05 corrected) and uncinate fasciculus (Uf) (r = 0.65, voxel level p<0.0025, cluster level p<0.05 corrected). The results demonstrated that lower FA in the right anterior Cg was a vulnerability factor and increased FA in the left anterior Cg and Uf was an acquired sign of state anxiety after the earthquake. We postulate that subjects with dysfunctions in processing fear and anxiety before the disaster were likely to have higher anxiety levels requiring frequent emotional regulation after the disaster. These findings provide new evidence of psychophysiological responses at the neural network level soon after a stressful life event and might contribute to the development of effective methods to prevent PTSD.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere83967
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jan 6

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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