People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appear to have an imbalance between two of the brain’s signaling systems, a new study suggests.
The greater the imbalance between the two neurochemical systems — serotonin and substance P — the more severe the PTSD symptoms, the Swedish researchers reported.
For the study, published recently in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers used PET scanners to measure the relationship between the two brain signaling systems.
Previous research has shown that people with PTSD have changes in brain anatomy and function. And while some experts had suggested that PTSD might also involve a shift in the balance between brain signaling systems, the study authors believe this is the first study to actually show that.
The findings improve understanding of PTSD and could lead to better treatments for the condition, the study authors said.
An anxiety disorder, PTSD affects as many as 8 percent of people who experience traumatic events such as war, violence or a serious accident, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“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,” study author Andreas Frick, a researcher in the department of psychology at Uppsala University, in Stockholm, said in a university news release.
“Restoring the balance between the serotonin and substance P systems could become a new treatment strategy for individuals suffering from traumatic incidents,” he suggested.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about post-traumatic stress disorder.