Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Prevention

The regions of the brain associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Source: National Institutes of Health.

The regions of the brain associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Source: National Institutes of Health.
Scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois have developed a new treatment to prevent stressful events from triggering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Consisting of a one time injection of drugs, the new treatment appears to be effective in mice if administered within five hours of the triggering incident. Human testing is not yet underway, but the researchers expect similar results in people.

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects over eight million people in the United States alone. It results in lingering psychological symptoms after experiencing various triggering incidents such as military combat, a natural disaster such as an earthquake, or an assault or rape. The disease is difficult to treat and can be debilitating. People affected think danger constantly surrounds them and expect something bad to happen all of the time. They cannot sleep, often have trouble maintaining normal relationships, and often avoid normal public situations because of their fears.

From a physical standpoint, the syndrome is caused by the continued interaction of two proteins in the brain. Everyone produces these proteins in stressful situations, but people with PTSD produce them all of the time. A stressful event releases a flood of the neurotransmitter glutamate which dissipates after 30 minutes. However, a second protein Homer1a continues to stimulate the glutamate receptor causing a continued excitation of neurons.

The Northwestern study subjected mice to an electric shock inside a box normally perceived as safe. When they’re returned to the box, they exhibit fear about half of the time (a normal reaction). After a second shock, the mice froze in fear for more than 80 percent of the time and continued to exhibit this heightened fear for over a month. This behavior mimics PTSD in humans.

In the second part of the study, the mice were injected with the drugs MPEP and MTEP five hours after an initial stressor then again exposed to electric shocks in a box. This time, the mice continued to respond with fear only half of the time rather than developing the exaggerated fear response seen without the drugs.

TFOT has previously reported on other research and technology designed to help with traumatic events and brain injuries including the Generation II HEADS helmet sensor designed to diagnose and treat concussions in soldiers, an implantable biosensor that can track and transmit basic health status information of soldiers, and a new ultrasound helmet designed to enhance alertness, reduce stress, provide pain management, and protect against traumatic brain injury.

Read more about the prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in this Northwestern University press release.