Neural patterns differentiate traumatic from sad autobiographical memories in PTSD

Ofer Perl, Or Duek, Kaustubh R. Kulkarni, Charles Gordon, John H. Krystal, Ifat Levy, Ilan Harpaz-Rotem, Daniela Schiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


For people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), recall of traumatic memories often displays as intrusions that differ profoundly from processing of ‘regular’ negative memories. These mnemonic features fueled theories speculating a unique cognitive state linked with traumatic memories. Yet, to date, little empirical evidence supports this view. Here we examined neural activity of patients with PTSD who were listening to narratives depicting their own memories. An intersubject representational similarity analysis of cross-subject semantic content and neural patterns revealed a differentiation in hippocampal representation by narrative type: semantically similar, sad autobiographical memories elicited similar neural representations across participants. By contrast, within the same individuals, semantically similar trauma memories were not represented similarly. Furthermore, we were able to decode memory type from hippocampal multivoxel patterns. Finally, individual symptom severity modulated semantic representation of the traumatic narratives in the posterior cingulate cortex. Taken together, these findings suggest that traumatic memories are an alternative cognitive entity that deviates from memory per se.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2226-2236
Number of pages11
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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