Preventing PTSD: BYU Research Examining Treatments for Early Intervention

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Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) are exploring the potential use of drugs to pretreat individuals at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In a study led by neuroscience professor Jeff Edwards, rodents were administered drugs and then subjected to traumatic experiences to gauge the effects of the drugs on stress levels. The findings suggested that pretreatment with certain drugs could potentially mitigate the formation of traumatic memories associated with PTSD.

While there are currently medications available for mitigating PTSD symptoms after a traumatic event, Edwards’ research delves into the possibility of preventing the formation of those memories before the traumatic experience occurs.
Edwards’ research explores the potential of blocking those memories from forming before the experience even happens.

According to Edwards, the study aimed to investigate whether drugs commonly used to treat PTSD reactively could be used as preventative measures for individuals, such as first responders and military personnel, at high risk of developing PTSD.

The study involved injecting rats with propranolol and mifepristone, which are medications commonly used in the treatment of PTSD. The rats were then exposed to ongoing stress-inducing situations over a two-week period, followed by assessments of their emotional and memory responses.

Results indicated that rats subjected to stress without pretreatment experienced a significant increase in long-term potentiation — a process linked to the formation and retrieval of memories. On the other hand, the pretreated rats showed levels of long-term potentiation comparable to those in a control group not exposed to stress.

Edwards commented that the drugs appeared to restore brain function to normal levels, effectively reducing the formation of maladaptive memories that contribute to heightened memory recall.

Furthermore, the study revealed that pretreated rats demonstrated normal stress receptors following traumatic experiences, whereas the untreated rats showed an 80% reduction in the functionality of their stress receptors.

Eric Winzenried, a former undergraduate researcher at BYU, likened the study to the adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” He emphasized the potential efficacy of preventative treatment strategies, particularly in high-risk individuals.

Further research on rats is required before any potential human trials, as stated in a press release from BYU.

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