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Drugs That Stop PTSD Discovered by Scientists


Imagine being able to stop the disturbing, often devastating symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It appears that scientists from Northwestern University have been able to do just that by injecting drugs into the brain within five hours of a traumatic event that can trigger PTSD.

Drugs that can stop PTSD could help millions

The statistics on PTSD are alarming and staggering. Approximately 7 to 8 percent of individuals in the United States will probably develop PTSD during their lifetime, according to MedicineNet, with the prevalence among military veterans and rape victims reaching as high as 30 percent. A recent study conducted at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, for example, found the prevalence of PTSD among soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to range from 20.7 to 30.5 percent.

PTSD affects nearly 8 million people in the United States and impacts young as well as old. Statistics show that more than 40 percent of young people have experienced at least one traumatic event, resulting in PTSD in up to 15 percent of females and 6 percent of males. Overall, women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

In a preclinical trial, scientists at Northwestern University discovered the molecular cause of PTSD: overstimulation of the brain following a traumatic event, which triggers a wild interaction between two proteins in the brain that continues long after it should stop.

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One protein is glutamate, a neurotransmitter that excites brain cells. Excess glutamate disappears about 30 minutes after the traumatic event, but the neurons remain excited because the glutamate interacts with Homer1a, another protein, which continues the stimulating activity.

To arrive at their finding, the researchers created an environment for mice that resulted in the animals developing an exaggerated chronic fear response—freezing in fear—80 to 90 percent of the time when presented with a stressful experience. This response resembles PTSD.

The researchers then repeated stressful experiences for the mice but injected them with two drugs—MPEP and MTEP—into the hippocampus of the brain within five hours. This time the mice did not display an exaggerated fear response and froze for only 50 percent of the time. The hippocampus is the area of the brain involved with emotion, memory, and behavior.

According to principal investigator Jelena Radulovic, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and Dunbar Scholar at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, “we were able to stop the development of exaggerated fear with a simple, single drug treatment and found the window of time we have to intervene.”

The discovery of drugs that could stop PTSD in its tracks is a promising one. Radulovic noted that their mouse model showed that the animals’ “memories of the stressful event didn’t trigger the extreme responses anymore. This means we could have a prevention approach for humans exposed to acute, severe stressful events.”

Northwestern University