As everyone is aware, current military conflicts have been associated with high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder along with symptoms of depression and pain.
Despite increasing prevalence of the symptoms, scientists are searching to determine why the symptoms cluster together and what is the best way to treat them.
One approach that may yield new insights is to search for biomarkers — indicators of a biological state that can be easily and reliably measured in people with an illness — to see if their presence or absence can predict symptoms that an individual will experience and identify optimal treatment strategies.
Dr. Christine Marx and her team at Duke University and the Durham VA Medical Center sought to determine if there are biomarkers associated with PTSD symptoms.
They hypothesized that veterans who have PTSD (and who often experience depression and pain symptoms) show changes in neurosteroids, which are brain chemicals thought to play a key role in responsiveness to stress.
Dr. Marx based her approach on prior work involving animal models showing that levels of neurosteroids found in blood samples accurately reflect levels found in the brain.
Marx measured blood neurosteroid levels in 90 male OEF/OIF veterans to examine whether they may be predictive of PTSD, depression, and pain symptoms. She found that several candidate biomarkers could be important to identifying the changes that occur in the brain with PTSD, which could aid in the development of more effective treatments.
“The neurosteroid allopregnanolone looks like a particularly promising biomarker that we might use to help assess symptom severity in PTSD, depression, and pain disorders, understand their neurobiological underpinnings, develop new treatment options, and predict therapeutic response,” said Marx, an associate member of ACNP.
Ongoing research will continue to investigate the use of the biomarker to identify PTSD and then track the efficacy of various treatment strategies and protocols.