A portable brain-mapping device based on NIR spectroscopy could help advance understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Further study of the disorder, which can greatly hinder sufferers’ memory and learning abilities, could bring new and potentially more effective treatments. The device, developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington, shows limited prefrontal cortex activity in the brains of veterans diagnosed with PTSD who are asked to recall information from seemingly simple memorization tasks. The technique also provides information about brain oxygenation. “[This] shows how PTSD can affect the way we learn and our ability to recall information, so this new way of brain imaging advances our understanding of PTSD,” said Dr. Hanli Liu, a bioengineering professor at UT Arlington. NIR spectroscopy was used to image and map brain region activity and responses during number-ordering and other similar tasks on a computer. Each subject showed “significant difficulty” in attempting to remember the given numbers, which the researchers said is closely associated with dysfunction of a portion in the right frontal cortex. The study involved 16 UT Arlington students who are combat veterans previously diagnosed with PTSD. All of them had been experiencing distress and functional impairment that was impacting their cognitive and academic performance, the researchers said. Results of the study are being used to develop new and different forms of treatment customized for these and other veterans enduring PTSD. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment plan, but a concentrated effort to tailor the treatment based on where that person is on the learning scale,” said Dr. Alexa Smith-Osborne, an associate professor of social work at UT Arlington and a principal investigator for the school’s Student Veteran Project. Smith-Osborne has already helped to guide some treatment recommendations. This has demonstrated positive and promising results in subjects who underwent additional testing after being treated, the researchers said. “When we retest those student veterans after we’ve provided therapy and interventions, they’ve shown marked improvement … in brain functions and responses,” she said. The researchers plan to continue studying their results in efforts to develop more comprehensive care for student veterans. The work was supported by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the UT Arlington Research Enhancement fund, the U.S. Department of Education, the Dallas Foundation, and private donors in support of the Student Veteran Project. The research was published in NeuroImage: Clinical (doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2014.05.005). For more information, visit www.uta.edu.