Scientific Council Member Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., is one of the authors of a new study that supports the hypothesis that elevating glucocorticoid levels—a class of hormones often referred to as stress hormones—may help to reduce the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).The new study is published in the September 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry.
Glucocorticoids, including cortisol, are considered stress hormones because their levels increase following stress. When their relationship to stress was first identified, it was shown that the release of cortisol prepared the body to cope with the physical demands of stress but subsequent high levels of the hormone were linked to depression and anxiety disorders. This developed into the hypothesis that high levels of cortisol on a long-term basis may impair the psychological capacity to cope with stress.
But other data have suggested that elevating glucocorticoid levels may reduce the development of PTSD. This new study supports that hypothesis: using an animal model of PTSD, the research team demonstrates that elevated levels of glucocorticoids at the time of acute stress protects against anxiety-like behavior and the corresponding stress on synaptic connectivity in the brain. Commenting on the new study, John H. Krystal, M.D., Scientific Council Member and the editor of Biological Psychiatry said “it seems, increasingly, that the 'trauma' in post-traumatic stress disorder is the impact of stress on brain structure and function.” Dr. Krystal said the study “provides evidence that glucocorticoids may have protective effects in their animal model that prevent these changes in synaptic connectivity, potentially shedding light on protective effects of glucocorticoids described in relation to PTSD."