CNS Spectrums

Original Research

Cerebral basis of posttraumatic stress disorder following the Chernobyl disaster

Konstantin N. Loganovskya1 c1 and Nataliya A. Zdanevicha1

a1 Department of Radiation Psychoneurology, Institute for Clinical Radiology, State Institution “National Research Centre for Radiation Medicine, National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine, ” Kyiv, Ukraine

Background Whether posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following radiation emergency has psychopathological, neurocognitive, and neurophysiological peculiarities is at issue.

Objective The goal was to explore the features and cerebral basis of “radiation” PTSD in the survivors of the Chernobyl accident.

Subjects and Methods The cross-sectional study included 241 people, 219 of whom have been diagnosed with PTSD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (DSM-IV) criteria, among them 115 clean-up workers of the Chernobyl accident (34 with acute radiation sickness), 76 evacuees from the Chernobyl exclusion zone, 28 veterans of the war in Afghanistan, and 22 healthy unexposed individuals. Psychometric examinations, neurocognitive assessments, computerized electroencephalography, and cerebral vascular Doppler were used.

Results “Radiation” PTSD includes “flashforward” phenomena and anticipating stress (projection of fear and danger to the future); somatoform disorders (depression, trait and state anxiety); and neurocognitive deficit (impaired memory and attention, auditory-verbal memory and learning, proactive and retroactive interference, cerebellar and stem symptoms, intellectual changes). The intima-media component, thickness of common carotid arteries, and common and left internal carotid arteries stenosis rates are increased in the liquidators. Changes of bioelectrical brain activity as a decrease of beta- and theta-power, together with an increase of alpha-power, were found in the Chernobyl accident survivors with PTSD.

Conclusions PTSD following radiation emergency is characterized by comorbidity of psychopathology, neurocognitive deficit, and cerebrovascular pathology with increased risk of cerebral atherosclerosis and stroke. The cerebral basis of this PTSD is proposed to be an abnormal communication between the pyramidal cells of the neocortex and the hippocampus, and deep brain structures. It is recommended that a system of emergency and long-term psychological and psychiatric care be organized for the survivors in Fukushima Daichi, Japan

(Received November 07 2012)

(Accepted December 10 2012)

(Online publication February 27 2013)

Key words

  • Chernobyl disaster;
  • hippocampus;
  • neurocognition;
  • neurophysiology;
  • posttraumatic stress disorder;
  • psychopathology;
  • radiation emergency