CHICAGO --- Post-traumatic stress syndrome when a severely stressful event triggers exaggerated and chronic fear affects nearly 8 million people in the United States and is hard to treat. In a preclinical study, Northwestern Medicine scientists have for the first time identified the molecular cause of the debilitating condition and prevented it from occurring by injecting calming drugs into the brain within five hours of a traumatic event.
Northwestern researchers discovered the brain becomes overly stimulated after a traumatic event causes an ongoing, frenzied interaction between two brain proteins long after they should have disengaged.
"It's like they keep dancing even after the music stops," explained principal investigator Jelena Radulovic, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and Dunbar Scholar at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. When newly developed research drugs MPEP and MTEP were injected into the hippocampus, the calming drugs ended "the dance."
"We were able to stop the development of exaggerated fear with a simple, single drug treatment and found the window of time we have to intervene," Radulovic said. "Five hours is a huge window to prevent this serious disorder." Past studies have tried to treat the extreme fear responses, after they have already developed, she noted.
The study, conducted with mice, was published Dec. 1 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
An exaggerated fear disorder can be triggered by combat, an earthquake, a tsunami, rape or any traumatic psychological or physical event.
"People with this syndrome feel danger in everything that surrounds them," Radulovic said. "They are permanently alert and aroused because they expect something bad to happen. They have insomnia; their social and family bonds are severed or strained. They avoid many situations because they are afraid something bad will happen. Even the smallest
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