Results of a new study showing that people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have lower levels of a mood-regulating neurotransmitter may lead to the development of a new class of medications specifically targeting the condition.

A team of doctors lead by Alexander Neumeister M.D. of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and scientists from the Yale Positron Emission Tomography Center conducted a study to investigate the role of serotonin 1B in PTSD patients as that specific brain chemical has been linked to chronic anxiety in the latest animal studies.

Serotonin, a natural chemical responsible for transmitting signals throughout the central nervous system, has been associated with mood and emotion. Traditional medications for depression and anxiety often target irregular levels of the hormone.

Such drugs, however, have not been found to be effective in treating PTSD leaving experts few pharmaceutical options in helping patients with the condition. And while superior therapeutic options exist, the best outcomes arise from a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Effects of Trauma on Serotonin Production

This study examined whether the levels of the serotonin 1B in particular might be uniquely involved in PTSD. To this end, researchers compared the positron emission tomography (PET) scans of ninety-six participants, who were divided into the following three distinct groups: 49 with PTSD, 20 who had been exposed to trauma but did not develop PTSD, and 27 healthy individuals comprising the control group. PET utilizes nuclear technology to provide scientists with three-dimensional images of critical body processes including blood flow, oxygen usage and organ and tissue functions.

PTSD patients showed significantly lower levels of serotonin 1B than healthy patients, the findings revealed. The trauma-exposed participants also showed lower levels of the chemical when compared to the control group. Furthermore, the younger the patients were when they experienced the traumatic event, the greater was their serotonin 1B deficiency, the severity of their PTSD symptoms and the likelihood of them also suffering from major depression.

Stimulating Serotonin Production to Combat PTSD

Such results prompted researchers to suggest a developmental factor in the emergence of PTSD, as well as a lasting effect of trauma on brain function and processing. The team also concluded that while further studies corroborating the findings are needed, this research helps lead drug manufacturers in a new direction towards the development of disorder-specific medications that involve serotonin 1B.

In fact, Dr. Neumeister noted that Eli Lilly and Merck & Co, among others, are already considering making drugs that specifically target the serotonin B1 receptor.

PTSD is a trauma-induced anxiety disorder that affects nearly 8 million Americans. Triggered by such experiences as rape, domestic and child abuse, natural disasters, military combat duty, or kidnapping, individuals with the condition suffer from intense fear and distress. Flashbacks of the event, avoidance of people or places that remind one of the trauma, and social isolation frequently result, and many cannot engage in daily routines. Personal and professional relationships suffer as those with the condition often withdraw from others and struggle with emotional outbursts and difficulties concentrating.

Date of original publication:

Comments