High Blood Pressure Drug May Help Treat PTSD

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The beta blocker propranolol may help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suppress fear through extinction, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One of the most common treatments for PTSD is exposure therapy, which utilizes extinction learning. Although exposure therapy is often effective, many patients experience “fear relapse” over time.

The researchers wanted to test the effects of inhibiting a neurotransmitter system that sends stress signals to the cortex. They hope this would facilitate prefrontal cortical function and enable extinction of fearful memories.

“Patients with PTSD have trouble learning to suppress fearful memories of their traumas,” researcher Stephen Maren, PhD, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, said in a statement. “We reasoned that the high levels of stress experienced by PTSD patients might inhibit brain areas, such as the prefrontal cortex, involved in learning to suppress fear.”

In their study, the researchers subjected rats to fear conditioning by pairing a sound with a mild electric shock. The rats immediately underwent extinction training where the sound was presented many times without the shock.

Mice that did not receive propranolol reacted poorly to extinction learning. Mice that were given propranolol prior to extinction learning exhibited dampened shock-induced changes in the prefrontal cortex and thus showed better response to extinction learning.

Combining propranolol with traditional exposure therapy may be able to facilitate extinction learning and lasting fear reduction in patients with PTSD, according to the study.

High Blood Pressure Drug May Help Treat PTSD
The hypertension medication propranolol may help PTSD patients with suppressing fear.

A drug used to treat high blood pressure can also facilitate a form of learning that helps patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reduce fear, research with rats suggests.

The new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examines whether dampening a neurotransmitter system that conveys stress signals to the cortex would facilitate prefrontal cortical function and enable the form of learning (called extinction) involved in suppressing fear memories.

“Patients with PTSD have trouble learning to suppress fearful memories of their traumas,” says Stephen Maren, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University. “We reasoned that the high levels of stress experienced by PTSD patients might inhibit brain areas, such as the prefrontal cortex, involved in learning to suppress fear.”

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