J Korean Biol Nurs Sci.  2021 Aug;23(3):159-169. 10.7586/jkbns.2021.23.3.159.

Trends in Brain Imaging Research on Refugees with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Scoping Review

  • 1College of Nursing, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea
  • 2Mo-Im Kim Nursing Research Institute, Seoul, Korea


The purpose of this study was to analyze research trends and find whether Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) of refugees could affect structural or functional changes of brains of those under MRI, focusing on volumes, functional connectivities, and metabolites.
A literature search was done using PubMed, Embase, RISS, and KMBase to identify studies that matched our research purpose. A total of eight studies were identified using Prisma flow diagram by two reviewers independently.
Eight studies were identified. Three studies were on North Korean defectors as subjects. The number of studies that observed structural changes, functional changes, and metabolite changes in brains was 2, 5, and 2, respectively. Although each study observed various parts of the brain, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was observed commonly in three studies. The PTSD group showed reduction of ACC volume and N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA) metabolite in ACC compared to the non- PTSD group. When exposed to negative stimuli, the PTSD group showed higher neural activity than the non-PTSD group, but not vice versa.
ACC showed significant difference in volume, neural activity, and NAA metabolite between the PTSD and the non-PTSD group, resulting in significant differences in structural changes, functional changes, metabolite changes, respectively. This study showed the need for conducting more research using various biomarkers to clarify the relationship between PTSD of refugees and their brain changes.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Refugees
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