The experience of trauma during teen years is a known risk factor for the later development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The National Institutes of Health reported in 2005 that PTSD (an often debilitating anxiety disorder) affects 3.5% of American adults each year. The Department of Veteran Affairs statistics show higher incidence of PTSD among active and retired U.S. military than the general public. These and other factors make PTSD a critical area for scientific exploration into causes and potential treatments. Research led by NARSAD Grantee Ya-Ping Tang, M.D., Ph.D. found that the action of a specific gene occurring during exposure to adolescent trauma is critical for the development of PTSD in adulthood. The findings were published online on April 1, 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This is the first study to show that a timely manipulation of a certain neurotransmitter system in the brain during the stage of trauma exposure is potentially an effective strategy to prevent the pathogenesis of PTSD," notes Dr. Tang, Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans. "Once validated in human subjects, our findings may help target potential therapies to prevent or cure this devastating mental disorder.”
The researchers used animal models to see if the experience of adolescent trauma along with acute stress and the presence of the gene named CCKR-2 played a contributing role in the onset of PTSD symptoms. They discovered that exposure to a second episode of victimization was a factor in PTSD and conversely that acute stress was not necessarily enough to bring about PTSD-like symptoms. The combination of exposure to trauma, stress and CCKR-2 did produce behaviors associated with PTSD. Their findings suggest that the development of PTSD may not depend on trauma alone. The study identified a crucial window of time when the CCKR-2 gene along with the traumatic experience contribute to the development of the illness. Dr. Tang and his team administered a four-week course of antidepressant (in this case Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs) therapy that proved to reduce some PTSD symptoms.