The terrorist attacks committed in Paris and Saint-Denis on November 13, 2015 have left lasting marks, not only on the survivors and their loved ones, but also on French society as a whole. A vast transdisciplinary research program, the 13-Novembre project is codirected by Francis Eustache, neuropsychologist and director of the Inserm Neuropsychology and Imaging of Human Memory laboratory (Inserm/Université de Caen Normandie/École pratique des hautes études/Caen university hospital/Cyceron imaging platform) and Denis Peschanski, historian and CNRS Research Director . It seeks the ongoing construction and evolution of the individual and collective memory of these traumatic events and improve our understanding of the factors that protect against the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Part of this program is a brain imaging study called Remember, which is focused on the cerebral networks implicated in PTSD. Its findings will be published in the journal Science on February 14, 2020. This study, which is sponsored by Inserm and led by Inserm researcher Pierre Gagnepain, shows that the untimely resurgence of intrusive images and thoughts in PTSD patients - a phenomenon long attributed to a deficiency of memory - is also linked to a dysfunction of the brain networks that control memory. The researchers expect that these findings will lead to the identification of new treatment options for PTSD sufferers
Understanding more about the cause of intrusive memories
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According to the traditional models of PTSD, the persistence of painful intrusive memories is caused by memory dysfunction - a bit like a scratched record playing the same fragments of our memories over and over again. From the anatomical point of view, such dysfunctions are particularly visible in the hippocampus - a key region for the formation of memory.
In addition, patients' attempts to suppress their traumatic memories have long been considered an ineffective mechanism. Instead of confronting these painful images in order to leave them in the past, the way they were trying to repress or drive them out was seen more as a negative strategy, intensifying the intrusions and worsening the situation of those with PTSD.
The brain imaging study published in the journal Science challenges some of these ideas, hypothesizing that the untimely resurgence of intrusive images and thoughts could also be linked to a dysfunction of the brain networks implicated in controlling memory (going back to the previous metaphor of the record player, the turntable arm is not working correctly). "These control mechanisms act like a regulator of our memory and are engaged in halting or suppressing the activity of the regions associated with memories, such as the hippocampus", Pierre Gagnepain explains.