Genetic Findings Point Toward New PTSD Treatments
> 7/17/2007 12:49:17 PM

MIT researchers appear to have uncovered one of the brain's central fear mechanisms and an enzyme best used to temper it. Their experiments hint at the still-distant possibility of developing medications to directly counteract the disabling effects of post traumatic stress disorder.

Previous research indicated that the substance cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (cdk5), when combined with complimentary proteins, helps to guide the proper creation of certain components within the developing brain. It maintains a lifelong presence in the tissues of most animals, and it is apparently responsible for fueling the hippocampus's emotional memory banks, whose data can determine an individual's reactions to fear-inducing stimuli. This retention of memories that are often extreme, irrational and distorted by the passage of time forms the framework of the PTSD condition.

The experiments leading to
this discovery involved genetically engineered mice that received electrical shocks when placed in a certain pre-made environment. In a small-scale mirroring of the PTSD effect, the mice displayed clear signs of fearful reticence whenever placed in the same space after receiving the shocks, clearly recalling the physical and emotional jolt created by the initial current. Researchers noted the heightened presence of cdk5 in the mice which, on being placed back in the original environment, seemed to have the most difficulty releasing themselves from the same fear. After chemically inhibiting the release of cdk5, researchers noted that the mice regained their understanding that the environment and the shocks administered were not necessarily synonymous. By inhibiting, or facilitating the "extinction"of these reactionary fears, researchers relieved the mice of the emotional overload that froze them in place.

Treatment for PTSD currently centers around talk therapy, wherein patients can face and deconstruct their fears and/or learn to move byeond them as much as possible. Medications such as those used to treat depression (SSRIs, mood regulators like Lithium) may also be prescribed, but no medications currently exist exclusively for the treatment of PTSD. This absence largely stems from the fact that the disorder's inherent chemical processes are still not very well understood. The brain functions of mice and other mammalians are similar to those of humans, and if research can develop compounds that achieve the same result in human patients as they did on the mice at MIT, we may soon have a more powerful weapon in the fight against PTSD.

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