STRESS
September 22, 2012

A New Drug for PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is about more than anxiety. A new drug may help the attention and memory problems that come along with it.

Many may think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as being only about the debilitating anxiety that lingers after a traumatic event. While this is certainly a central part of PTSD, there are other symptoms that commonly occur along with the anxiety, such as concentration and memory problems, which can also be extremely disruptive to the person experiencing them.

But now a team of researchers say they have found a drug that may address cognitive problems specifically, by targeting a certain receptor in the brain. Earlier work had shown that this receptor, called RyR2, which regulates levels of calcium in cells, can be affected by stress and become leaky. When RyR2 channels in the heart leak, arrhythmias and heart failure can result.

The team is hoping that clinical trials for the medication they tested, a Rycal drug called S107, could begin within the next few years. The results are especially exciting since there is no treatment specifically targeted for PTSD.

Since the brain’s hippocampus (the seat of memory, and the part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease) also has RyR2 receptors, the researchers wagered that leaky receptors here might be the cause of the cognitive problems of PTSD and other stress-related disorders.

They tested this hypothesis in a couple of different ways. The first showed that when chronically stressed mice were given a drug that stabilizes the RyR2 channel, thereby preventing calcium from leaking out of the cell, their cognitive function was not adversely affected by stress. Next they showed that genetically engineered mice, whose RyR2 channels could not be altered by stressful times, did not show any cognitive problems when they were stressed.

The team is hoping that clinical trials for the medication they tested, a Rycal drug called S107, could begin within the next few years. The results are especially exciting since there is no treatment specifically targeted for PTSD; treatments for the disorder typically rely on cognitive therapy and other types of medication, like antidepressants and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medications, which don’t specifically address cognitive issues.

"With the dramatic rise in cases of PTSD among our combat veterans, and following common afflictions such as heart attacks,” said study leader Andrew R. Marks in a news release, “there is a pressing need for new and better therapies for this debilitating disorder. Our study provides new insight regarding the mechanism of stress-related cognitive disorders, as well as a potential treatment based on the understanding of this mechanism."

The study results also have implications for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of stress-related cognitive disorders.

The study was carried out by a team at Columbia University Medical Center and published in the journal Cell.

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