Drug Shows Promise for Treating PTSD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Each year, over 5 million adults in the United States suffer symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). [1] This is an anxiety disorder that sometimes occurs after going through a traumatic event. Symptoms can appear shortly after the event or years later. War, sexual abuse, abuse, serious accidents and natural disasters can all cause PTSD. Not everyone that goes through these situations develops PTSD but according to the National Center for PTSD, around 7 or 8 percent of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some time during their lives. [2]

    Treatment for PTSD usually includes psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you change your thought processes and replace anxiety-producing thoughts with more helpful thoughts to reduce fear. Exposure therapy slowly reintroduces you to situations causing fears working to desensitize you to fearful memories, places and situations. Group and family therapy have also found to be useful by providing positive support and friendships.

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    Traditionally, treatment has consisted of trying to cope with the painful memories. A new research study completed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has discovered a drug that can “extinguish well-established traumatic memories.” [3]

    Researchers created traumatic memories in mice, giving them an electric shock every time they entered a certain area of their habitat. The mice were then placed back into the area, without the electric shock. Mice who had experienced the electric shock only 24 hours prior were able to overcome their fear but those who had experienced the electric shock 30 days prior were not.

    The researchers noted that a protein in the brain, HDAC2, was deactivated and genes that aid in memory formation were “switched on” in the brains of the mice reentering the chamber 24 hours after the trauma. This did not happen in the mice who had experienced the trauma 30 days prior to reentering the chamber. When these mice were given a drug to inhibit HDAC2, they could be retrained to enter the chamber and overcome their fear.

    Scientists believe this could help those with PTSD overcome painful memories. The study showed that there is a “window” of time for effectively treating PTSD but the medication could extend that window and help those with old memories - from past years or childhood - by giving people a chance to process them correctly.

    HDAC2 inhibitors are sometimes used to treat cancer and have been approved by the FDA for that. Based on the research, it might also be helpful for those with anxiety disorders such as PTSD or phobias.


    [3] “Erasing Traumatic Memories,” 2014, Jan 16, Ann Trafton, MIT News

    [1] [2] “How Common is PTSD,” Updated 2014, Jan, Staff Writer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD

Published On: January 20, 2014