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Talk Therapy Erases Neurological Changes in PTSD Patients

Update Date: Dec 03, 2013 03:31 PM EST

Talk therapy may help reverse biological changes associated with posttraumatic stress disorder, a new study suggests.

New research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy reduces symptoms and alters the underlying biology of PTSD.

The latest study involved 39 patients diagnosed with PTSD and 31 individuals who didn't develop PTSD after being exposed to trauma.

Participants with PTSD received 12 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy whereas those in the non-PTSD groups received no therapy.

Before undergoing therapy, participants undergone MRI brain scans and gave blood samples.

The study revealed that PTSD patients had lower FKBP5 gene expression. Previous research linked the gene FKBP5 to risk of developing PTSD and plays a role in regulating stress hormones. PTSD patients also had smaller hippocampal and medial orbitofrontal cortex volumes, which are important brain regions involved in learning, memory and emotional regulation.

However, after therapy PTSD patients showed higher expression of FKBP5 and increased hippocampal volume. These changes were also directly associated with clinical improvement among the patients.

"The results show that structural changes in the brain, such as the shrinkage of the hippocampus, are reversible in trauma victims. Talk therapy may help normalize these alterations and improve symptoms," lead researcher Dr. Szabolcs Kéri at the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions and University of Szeged in Hungary, said in a news release. "Furthermore, the regeneration of hippocampus correlated with the expression of a gene that balances the activity of the stress hormone cortisol at the level of cells."

"This study helps to link the alleviation of PTSD symptoms to improvement in stress-related alterations in the body and brain," added Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

The findings are published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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