The brain of a PTSD victim

Military testing
This Sept. 29, 2009 photo shows U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Greg Rivers, 20, of Sylvester, Ga., waiting to take psychological tests at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

The recent killing of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier has once again brought the extreme effects of post-traumatic stress disorder to the public's attention. While we know that PTSD impacts its victims, we're just starting to understand its effects on the brain.

The University of Minnesota's Brain Science Center is at the forefront of PTSD research. Brian Engdahl, a psychologist at the center, is a leading expert in the disorder. He'll join The Daily Circuit Monday to talk about the latest findings.

Doctors are now able to see PTSD in brain scans, he said.

Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos
Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., is Director of Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. Here, he looks at an image of a brain that shows signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

"The MEG scan results couldn't be clearer - we can separate veterans with PTSD from veterans without to around 97% accuracy," Engdahl said. "It's like nothing that's been seen before. PTSD is a dramatic, visible difference that characterizes the brain."

Mild traumatic brain injury leaves a mark on the brain, like a scar, he said.

"It's there long term, if not permanent," he said. "Mild TBI affects all parts of the looks like a blurring across all of our sensors, which fits well with what we see with clinic. Vets come in and say everything could be wrong, anything, so that suggests malfunctions in quite a number of areas of the brain that relate to feeling and perceiving."

Apostolos Georgopoulos, the director of the Brain Science Center, will also join the discussion.


PTSD is an actual injury to the brain and takes different forms. Seeing it more precisely through the latest technology will help with treatment.

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