PTSD: Brain, Dirt, & Exposure

With more than three million U.S. cases per year, many of those members of the military, advancements in the treatment and prevention of PTSD is critical. Here we take a look at some recent developments in those areas.


Biomarkers in the Brain—Recent research reveals that it may be possible to suppress a key molecule found in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional memory processor, that is elevated by trauma. Experiments found that suppressing that microRNA, called mir-135b-5p, enabled faster recovery. The PTSD research was based on prior work in developing a potential drug to disrupt the longterm emotional memories of methamphetamine users to aid in the prevention of relapse into addiction. The research with mice revealed mir-135b-5p as a key differentiator between stress and resiliency; those mice without the microRNA proved to be uncommonly resilient.

Dirt Microorganism—A microorganism that lives in dirt may lead to a stress vaccine, preventing PTSD and other mental issues. A fatty acid from Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress. The same bacterium acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. A study showed that when the fatty acid gets into cells, it attaches itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR), allowing it to block several key pathways responsible for inflammation. This research could lead to a vaccine that can help prevent the psychological effects of stress.

Exposure TherapyResearchers at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School have completed a study indicating a possible improvement to exposure therapy. Exposure therapy uses electric shock that is then turned off in order to reduce the reaction to fear-conditioned pictures. In the study, the shocks were replaced with neutral tones instead of being simply turned off. Subjects receiving the neutral tone experienced stronger activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, lower emotional reactions, and a long-lasting memory of safety.

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Stephanie Jones