Neurochemical Imbalance Linked with Susceptibility to PTSD

New research finds that an imbalance between two neurochemical systems in the brain is linked to posttraumatic stress disorder with the greater the imbalance, the more serious the symptoms.

Researchers from Uppsala University and the medical university Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, found that people with posttraumatic stress disorder have an imbalance between two neurochemical systems in the brain, serotonin, and substance P.

Experiencing a traumatic event is not uncommon be it a robbery, warfare, a serious car accident, or a sexual assault. Approximately 10 percent of people subjected to trauma suffer long-lasting symptoms in the form of disturbing flashbacks, insomnia, hyperarousal, and anxiety.

If these problems lead to impairment, the person is said to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

Prior research has shown that people with PTSD have altered brain anatomy and function. In the new study, researchers discovered people with PTSD have an imbalance between two neurochemical signalling systems of the brain, serotonin, and substance P.

Professors Mats Fredrikson and Tomas Furmark led the study using a sophistical positron emission tomography (PET) scanner to measure the relationship between these systems.

The study, which has been published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, shows that it is the imbalance between the two signaling systems which determines the severity of the symptoms suffered by the individual rather than the degree of change in a single system.

This finding is important as others have previously speculated that the biological basis of psychiatric disorders such as PTSD includes a shift in the balance between different signaling systems in the brain.

As such, the results of the study enhance knowledge of the origins of PTSD and will be used to design improved pharmagological treatments for traumatized individuals.

“At present, PTSD is often treated with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which have a direct effect on the serotonin system. SSRI drugs provide relief for many but do not help everybody. Restoring the balance between the serotonin and substance P systems could become a new treatment strategy for individuals suffering from traumatic incidents,” said lead author Andreas Frick, researcher at the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University.

Source: Uppsala University/EurekAlert
Abstract of brain systems photo by shutterstock.