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New Drug Could Potentially Treat PTSD

Update Date: Jan 16, 2014 12:07 PM EST

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition often caused by a traumatic experience that involves symptoms such as severe anxiety. One of the most common treatment options for PTSD is psychotherapy, which reenacts the traumatic experience for the patient in a safe and controlled environment. Now, according to a new study, researchers identified a drug that has the potential to improve the treatment of PTSD.

For this study, neuroscientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) examined the effects of a type of drug called an HDAC2 inhibitor. This type of drug can make the brain more malleable. The researchers found that when rats were given the HDAC2 inhibitor, the rats' traumatic memories could be removed. The researchers believe that if this drug were to be given to patients who did not respond well to psychotherapy, the effects of therapy would ideally be improved.

"By inhibiting HDAC2 activity, we can drive dramatic structural changes in the brain. What happens is the brain becomes more plastic, more capable of forming very strong new memories that will override the old fearful memories," explained senior author, Li-Huei Tsai, the director of MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

The researchers also found that older memories are harder to extinguish. They concluded that time could play a huge factor in determining the effectiveness of the drug in treating PTSD.

"If you do something within this window of time, then you have the possibility of modifying the memory or forming a new trace of memory that actually instructs the animal that this is not such a dangerous place," Tsai said. "However, the older the memory is, the harder it is to really change that memory. Our experiments really strongly argue that either the old memories are permanently being modified, or a new much more potent memory is formed that completely overwrites the old memory."

The study was published in Cell.

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