PTSD Could Be Prevented With a Pill

By Carl Engelking | August 11, 2014 3:25 pm


Every sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) endured some form of intense trauma, but not everyone who is exposed to trauma develops PTSD. This disparity in the way we handle stress has led researchers on a hunt to find a biomarker that reveals a person’s susceptibility to PTSD — and that hunt has produced a promising target this week.

Nikolaos Daskalakis and colleagues from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai analyzed blood and brain samples from traumatized lab rats and identified specific genes and neural pathways that corresponded with an individual’s risk for developing PTSD. This information could help scientists develop a drug that protects people from developing PTSD, even when given after exposure to trauma has occurred.

The PTSD Hormone

Researchers placed 22 male and female rats in well-soiled cat litter for 10 minutes to simulate a life-threatening experience. Seven days later, researchers tested the rats’ stress response by placing them in a maze as well as measuring their reactions to a loud noise. Rats that displayed higher levels of anxiety in the maze and from the loud noise were categorized as vulnerable. The rats that were less anxiety-ridden were classified as resilient.

When researchers compared brain and blood samples from vulnerable and resilient mice, they discovered that signaling of a particular hormone called glucocorticoid was significantly lower in the vulnerable mice than in the resilient mice. Glucocorticoid plays a crucial role in the way our brains respond to stressors, and it has been an area of interest for researchers studying psychological disorders such as depression.

Preventing PTSD

If low levels of glucocorticoid were causing some rats to cope poorly with stress, researchers reasoned, then giving them a drug that mimics glucocorticoid should protect them against their PTSD-like response. And indeed this is what they found when they repeated the cat litter experiment but this time, an hour afterward, treated some rats with a hormone that activated the glucocorticoid receptor. Seven days later, the rats that were treated with the hormone showed only slightly higher anxiety from the maze and sound tests than rats that hadn’t been stressed at all. Researchers published their findings today in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

The results point toward a new kind of drug that might be helpful in staving off PTSD in those people genetically prone to the disorder. Though it’s unclear if that treatment could benefit the millions of Americans who already suffer from PTSD, it could be hugely promising in preventing more of its harm.


Photo credit: John Gomez/Shutterstock

  • Nelli Guyduy

    why give them a hormone-like drug when u can give the real hormone? oh wait drug commpanies and no more buisness i see.

    • Shaithias

      Before you think that hormones are the best thing ever, you need to realize that hormones are complex chemicals compared to drugs. Hormones can have more than one binding site, and drugs only have one binding site if we can help it. Also, making hormones is tough. It requires growing cells that produce the hormone and then purifying it. The cost difference between synthesizing a chemical and producing a hormone is immense, and hormone therapy is also dangerous. If you really want to cut big pharma out of the loop, you need to vote yes on stem cell therapy and human genetic engineering. If you engineer babies to be born already producing all the hormones they will ever need, you do not need big pharma. However, engineering humans to be better faster smarter and stronger is probably against your moral code because you probably believe that there is something wrong with tampering with another human’s life.

      If my parents could have tampered with my life to increase anything, and I had a say, my say would have been yes. It is a crime to an unborn child to not fix their diseases before conception.

      • Nelli Guyduy

        yea that is true. we should just not mess with the human natural chemistry unless we really know what we’re doing

  • DietrichB

    I find this so called PTSD research vile and disgusting. It’s just more medicalizing of normal human reactions to abnormal events so the mental death profession/Big Pharma cartel can blame the victims, deprive them of all justice and profit from their suffering. Also, most PTSD sufferers are now stigmatized with the latest fraud fad bipolar to push the latest lethal drugs on patent to make billions while destroying countless lives.
    It’s quite well proven that so called experts who can commit such fraud have no conscience, empathy or decency and enjoy having power over and destroying others to boost their big egos (i.e. malignant narcissists and psychopaths per Dr. Robert Hare, world authority on psychos ignored by psychiatry for the most part with the reasons all too clear: it hits too close to home!
    Have you no decency?

    • Shaithias

      You sir, have no appreciation for science and technology, and while big pharma is most certainly corrupt, new drugs are not. What you are upset about is the fact that there are a few people who are making money at the expense of others, not that there is a new drug. Properly managed drugs are good for people. If you want something to be done about your grievance of inequality and price gouging, maybe you should look into starting your own pharma corp to break the power of big pharma and put another player on the playing field. And while your at it, resist the temptation to buy a yacht. Until you do that, stop whining.

      • DentL

        DietrichB’s post it a bit emotionional, but it is unfortunately well founded. You think new drugs are not legitimate? Download the clinical trial of a modern “antidepressant” and look at it carefully. They’re big, and some things are missing (proprietary information), but when you read it, you’ll understand the meaning of the expression “if you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your BS”. If you have an understanding of science, technology, statistics and the proper application of reason, you will the conclusions are not supported by the trial; the trial is designed to support the conclusions. Not surprising for trials funded by and performed for or by a pharmaceutical company to gain approval, of patentable substances that cause dependence, from a government agency headed by people with ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

        In this article, the statement “If low levels of glucocorticoid were causing some rats to cope poorly with stress, researchers reasoned, then giving them a drug that mimics glucocorticoid should protect them against their PTSD-like response.” is the same as the “reasoning” behind approving and prescribing antidepressants. It is based on the (stated) assumption that “low levels of glucocorticoid” is the cause. If the researchers were real scientists, they would first establish a definite relationship between low levels of glucocorticoid and PTSD (not “PTSD-like response”), and then try to answer the question “what causes the low levels of glucocorticoid” (in humans, not rats). Could it possibly be that what causes the PTSD is the same thing that causes low levels of glucocorticoid? Of course, it’s pretty much impossible to determine something like this if you don’t know what PTSD is (remember, it’s just a bunch of symptoms, like clinical depression, which can have many possible causes, so it can’t really be objectively measured, let alone scientifically analysed).

        Some things I’ve read suggest that if there is a physical “cause” of PTSD, it’s not even in the brain (see “polyvagal theory”). If the real cause of PTSD is an excessive combination of intensity and duration of stress, and the symptoms are caused by stress induced changes to the vagus nerve (and/or other parts of the nervous system), more questions are raised than answered, and drugs that treat symptoms and create dependence are clearly the treatment of choice (for pharmaceutical companies); but not so good for people suffering from PTSD or for society. This article is a good example of the “streetlight effect” being practiced. It’s hard to find a cure for something that can’t be objectively identified and measured like a pathogen, but it’s easy and very profitable to find a way to alter a symptom if only rudimentary, and no long-term safety testing is required.

  • outpost

    Dealing with PTSD, I will refuse to get in the damn litter box. The VA uses anti-schizophrenic drugs on PTSD patients as an experiment.

    • Justin

      Yep and it’s f***ed. They should have studied that a long time ago.

    • Shaithias

      Life is the only price that can be paid for life, and although I sympathize with the difficulty you have to go through, those experiments provide valuable blood sweat and tears in the data gathering area. Sometimes literally. Just think of all the soldiers after your generation that won’t have to go through wrong drug regimes because of what you went through.

  • John Pedey-Braswell

    I remember now why graduate school instructors do not accept papers with secondary references like Discover in the bibliography. I don’t recall learning of an individual steroid named glucocorticoid in pharmacology. There was a whole a category called glucocorticoids that included cortisol. I guess I need to pull the original article in Proceedings to see what the research is really about.

  • Shaithias

    I agree they don’t convert nicely, that is why human testing is most certainly required.


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