New York – A team of researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has identified a promising therapeutic target in the brain that could lead to the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the first evidence of a potential drug target for the condition. The data were published in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Alexander Neumeister, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry 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. The patients were injected with a radiotracer, which is a substance that helps provide a clear picture of serotonin 1B levels. Serotonin 1B is a receptor involved in the psychological processes of the brain. Then they underwent PET scans that produced advanced biological images of their brains. The patients were injected with a radiotracer, during the PET scan.
The 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 Dr. Neumeister. “Currently, the only medical treatment options for the nearly eight million American adults with PTSD are anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, which show little benefit in improving the mental health of these patients.”
When Dr. Neumeister and his team evaluated predictors to explain the reduction in serotonin 1B levels in PTSD, they examined each patients’ age, age at first traumatic experience, number of traumatic experiences, sex, body mass index and co-morbid depression, which is found frequently in PTSD. They found that it was the age at first trauma that determined the reduction in 1B receptors and the severity of PTSD, establishing that trauma at a young age 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 Dr. 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.”
The study was supported with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (formerly NARSAD), and the VA National Center for PTSD.
About The Mount Sinai Medical Center
The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses both The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Established in 1968, Mount Sinai School of Medicine has more than 3,400 faculty in 32 departments and 16 institutes. It consistently ranks among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and by U.S. News & World Report. The medical school also ranks third in NIH funding per faculty member. The school received the 2009 Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852, is a 1,171-bed tertiary- and quaternary-care teaching facility and one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. In 2011, U.S. News & World Report ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital 16th on its elite honor roll of the nation’s top hospitals based on reputation, patient safety, and other patient-care factors. Of the top 20 hospitals in the United States, Mount Sinai is one of only 12 who employs a best-in-class integrated business model that seamlessly combines its management, governance and information technology with a medical school. Nearly 60,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients last year, and approximately 560,000 outpatient visits took place.