Possible new weapon against PTSD

Posted on September 2, 2015

About 8 million Americans suffer from nightmares and flashbacks to a traumatic event. This condition, known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is particularly common among soldiers who have been in combat, though it can also be triggered by physical attack or natural disaster.

Studies have shown that trauma victims are more likely to develop PTSD if they have previously experienced chronic stress, and a new study from MIT may explain why. The researchers found that animals who underwent chronic stress prior to a traumatic experience engaged a distinctive brain pathway that encodes traumatic memories more strongly than in unstressed animals.

Blocking this type of memory formation may offer a new way to prevent PTSD, says Ki Goosens, the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

"The idea is not to make people amnesic but to reduce the impact of the trauma in the brain by making the traumatic memory more like a 'normal,' unintrusive memory," says Goosens, an assistant professor of neuroscience and investigator in MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

The paper's lead author is former MIT postdoc Michael Baratta.

Strong memories

Goosens' lab has sought for several years to find out why chronic stress is so strongly linked with PTSD. "It's a very potent risk factor, so it must have a profound change on the underlying biology of the brain," she says.

To investigate this, the researchers focused on the amygdala, an almond-sized brain structure whose functions include encoding fearful memories. They found that in animals that developed PTSD symptoms following chronic stress and a traumatic event, serotonin promotes the process of memory consolidation. When the researchers blocked amygdala cells' interactions with serotonin after trauma, the stressed animals did not develop PTSD symptoms. Blocking serotonin in unstressed animals after trauma had no effect.

"That was really surprising to us," Baratta says. "It seems like stress is enabling a serotonergic memory consolidation process that is not present in an unstressed animal."

Memory consolidation is the process by which short-term memories are converted into long-term memories and stored in the brain. Some memories are consolidated more strongly than others. For example, "flashbulb" memories, formed in response to a highly emotional experience, are usually much more vivid and easier to recall than typical memories.

Goosens and colleagues further discovered that chronic stress causes cells in the amygdala to express many more 5-HT2C receptors, which bind to serotonin. Then, when a traumatic experience occurs, this heightened sensitivity to serotonin causes the memory to be encoded more strongly, which Goosens believes contributes to the strong flashbacks that often occur in patients with PTSD.

"It's strengthening the consolidation process so the memory that's generated from a traumatic or fearful event is stronger than it would be if you don't have this serotonergic consolidation engaged," Baratta says.

To read the full article, please click on the link below.


Category(s):Complex PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Source material from Science Daily


Mental Health News

  • The Controversy of Being On Time

    newsthumbEveryone is well-aware that being punctual to meetings is something that should be adhered to, but what if things weren't so straightforward? In this ...

  • Tempering the Mind

    newsthumbYou always hear the phrase "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" being thrown around, but what does it actually refer to? In this article, we ...

  • Waiting Constructively

    newsthumbWe've all had moments where we wait expectantly for some important news to arrive, but sometimes it never does. When all we can do is sit and wait, ...