Is a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder on the horizon?
Nearly 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but the disorder does not only affect military personnel. In fact, 3.5 percent of all U.S. citizens currently suffer from PTSD. But a new study is giving hope that a cure for the disorder may be on the horizon.
Past research has led to discoveries of methods to help cope with PTSD and treat it after it occurs, but the authors of this study believe their research could pave the way for a new preventative treatment.
“Current therapeutic approaches are used only after PTSD is already present and debilitating symptoms have appeared, but prevention of PTSD development is an important unmet medical need,” wrote the authors in the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PTSD is an intense physical and emotional response that occurs weeks, months or even years after a traumatic event. Symptoms include re-living the event, avoidance of related activities and increased arousal such as lack of concentration, irritability, outbursts of anger and difficulty sleeping. The disorder can have an impact on the families and children of those with the PTSD as well.
In this new study, researchers looked to mice for answers–testing thousands of genes to find differences in mice with PTSD versus a control group without the disorder.
One gene, OPRL1, in particular showed noticeable differences. Researchers say the OPRL1 gene helps the body produce a chemical known as nociceptin, which they found to significantly impede attempts to trigger the PTSD after the mice were injected with it.
The researchers believe this could be the key to finding a cure to PTSD in humans. In fact, the scientists examined the OPRL1 gene in almost 2,000 people who had PTSD as a result of a trauma experienced as a child. Trauma victims who had a particular version of the gene had worse symptoms.
“A new and more cost-effective therapeutic approach, although not yet a reality, would comprise early treatments that could prevent PTSD development by impairing fear memory consolidation,” wrote the authors in the study. “This early intervention would be especially appropriate for individuals at higher risk for PTSD after trauma, such as those with a history of previous trauma or those carrying genetic polymorphisms that have been associated with PTSD risk.”
In a commentary published alongside the study, experts Dr. Karen Seal and Dr. Murray Stein note that this research “could prevent the suffering of individuals exposed to severe trauma who develop PTSD and decrease the public health burden of trauma worldwide.”
Yet, despite the advances this research may bring, they say there is still reason for skepticism.
“Caution should be exercised when prescribing opioids to patients with chronic pain and PTSD to avoid this potential downward spiral of addiction, physical dependence, and worsening of PTSD symptoms,” the pair notes. “Using opioids in the treatment of patients with mental health disorders may exacerbate mental health symptoms over time.”
With this caution, some experts say more research will have to be done in the search for a cure, but this important research is another significant step in finding one.
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