Research scientists have found low levels of serotonin 1B levels in patients with a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the researchers, this is the first evidence of a potential drug target for the condition.
The study on biochemical changes within the brain associated with PTSD is published in Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Alexander Neumeister, M.D. at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and colleagues collaborated with the Yale Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Center to evaluate 96 patients: 49 with PTSD; 20 who were exposed to trauma but did not have PTSD; and 27 healthy adults.
All patients were injected with a tracer to provide a clear picture of levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin 1B. PET scans were then performed that produced advanced images of their brains.
Upon analysis, researchers found that serotonin 1B levels were substantially lower in the group of patients diagnosed with PTSD than in patients who did not have PTSD, and slightly lower in the patients who had been exposed to trauma but did not have PTSD.
“Our research provides the first evidence of a novel mechanism in the brain, and sets the stage for the development of therapies that target serotonin 1B receptors, offering the potential to minimize the disabling effects of PTSD,” said Neumeister.
“Currently, the only medical treatment options for the nearly eight million American adults with PTSD are antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, which show little benefit in improving the mental health of these patients.”
Researchers performed a detailed review of the data, including patients’ age, age at first traumatic experience, number of traumatic experiences, sex, body mass index and comorbid depression (which is often present with PTSD).
From this review, Dr. Neumeister and his team discovered the age at first trauma and the severity of the trauma appeared to play a key factor in reducing 1B receptors.
Consequently, they believe early trauma causes long-lasting neurobiological and psychological effects in survivors with PTSD.
“The patients in our study included victims of childhood abuse, domestic violence, and military veterans,” said Neumeister. “For these patients and the millions like them, treatment with currently available medications or psychotherapy is often ineffective.
“Unfortunately, people with PTSD often have additional psychiatric illnesses such as major depression or may develop substance use problems as an avenue for relieving their symptoms.
“Our research opens new doors in understanding PTSD and developing treatments for it, and may provide hope for these severely ill patients to be well.”