The discovery ‘can potentially help millions of people put trauma behind them,’ says researcher
Researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto have identified a protein complex that is elevated in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients and developed a compound that could potentially treat or prevent the disorder.
The team – led by Fang Lui, senior scientist and head of molecular neuroscience in CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute – found that the peptide prevented recall or encoding of fear memories.
“The discovery of the Glucocorticoid Receptor-FKBP51 protein complex provides a new understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying PTSD,” said Liu.
The protein complex normally increases after severe stress, but would go back to baseline levels. However, in those who develop PTSD, the protein remains elevated.
“This could be a blood-based biomarker for PTSD as well as being a target for pharmacological treatment,” Lui said. “In addition, the peptide we developed could be given after a traumatic event and could possibly prevent the patient from developing PTSD. This is a completely new approach to PTSD and for psychiatric disorders in general.”
PTSD occurs in some people after experiencing or witnessing traumatic events, such as sexual assault or military combat. Patients can suffer from debilitating flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety, and it can severely impact the quality of their life.
There are currently no laboratory diagnostic tests for the disorder, and existing treatments have limited efficacy. Canada has the highest prevalence of PTSD among 24 examined countries, and 9.2 per cent of Canadians will develop PTSD in their lifetimes, said CAMH, citing data from the British Journal of Psychiatry.
“We are thrilled this CAMH-led discovery can potentially help millions of people put trauma behind them,” said Liu.
CAMH has filed a patent for the peptide and diagnostic aspect of Liu’s invention, said CAMH. Liu and her team will conduct further testing and refining of the peptide before conducting human clinical trials.