Human resilience plays a significant role in guarding an individual from getting victimized by any kind of trauma arising from a painful experience or that involving danger or threat. Though not all experiences leave an everlasting impression on the mind, some incidents can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health disorder characterized by unwarranted emotions of distress, dread, anxiety, and perpetual grief. This illness affects nearly 8 million Americans in any given year, as per the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Receiving support and compassion following such an incident is critical for an individual to walk on the path of mental recovery.
To raise public awareness about PTSD and various treatment methods available to manage it, every year, the U.S. observes June as PTSD Awareness Month. Despite increasing commonality of this disorder, a majority of people dealing with PTSD do not receive the required support. That is why the month is observed with the intent to reach out to people, whether they are civilian survivors or veterans of serious accidents, sexual assault, natural calamities, and other traumatic events and to help them understand that research is in progress and novel treatment approaches are coming up which can help one significantly improve their quality of life.
PTSD symptoms can be overcome by suppression of a key molecule
One such novel treatment approach was recently discovered by Courtney Miller, a neuroscientist at the Scripps Research in Florida. Milller and her colleagues identified an important micro molecule which levels were found to be elevated within the amygdala, a part of brain that processes emotional memories. Suppressing this molecule facilitated a faster recovery from the traumatic episode, as per the study conducted by the researchers. In addition, it was also hypothesized that this molecule might act as an emerging biomarker for treating PTSD symptoms. The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in May 2019.
Miller realized that when an individual was under trauma, the levels of a specific microRNA (mRNA) got elevated in a portion of the brain which housed the chronic memories associated with fear. This area is known as the basolateral amygdala complex. Miller referred to this mRNA as mir-135b-5p and discovered that it was modified in both stress driven military veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD consequent to their deployment in Afghanistan and in mice.
No medication is available to target traumatic memories
Miller shared that for people struggling with PTSD, there are limited options available for treatment. She added that she wanted to dig deeper into the scheme of things and identify something pertaining to the storage of memories related to the trauma. PTSD is a highly prevalent disorder afflicting nearly 4 percent of men and 10 percent of women at some phase in their lives, making them susceptible to developing depression and even substance use. The rates of such occurrences are higher in the military.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs are the key medications used for managing PTSD symptoms. While these medicines might help alleviate symptoms in some, they might not help as much. Besides, there is nothing available that can target the memories associated with trauma. In her previous work, Miller developed a promising drug that helped in disrupting the chronic sensitive memories associated with methamphetamine as an approach to prevent relapse to substance abuse. This research encouraged her to try disrupting long-term emotional memories connected to PTSD and help individuals develop long-term resilience.
mRNAs regulate gene expression associated with memory
It is well known that mRNAs regulate gene expression within the cells. Recently, close to 2,000 diverse types of mRNAs had been identified and investigations at the Scripps Research and other places have shown that it is feasible to regulate these molecules in order to target some diseases which were once thought to be unmanageable because there was a lack of availability to the drug. Miller shared that her team chose to stick to mRNAs because they possessed a quality of expressing multiple molecules associated with memory. Her team specifically paid attention to the mRNAs that were expressed explicitly under stressful conditions to avoid completely erasing the memory of people.
Her team carried out research on mice conditioned for stress and who appeared to be permanently modified due to their exposure to stress. It was found that the key differentiator between the resilient and stressed mice was the mRNA mir-135b-5p. In the subsequent step, the researchers exposed the mice to stress once again but after muting mir-135b-5p. Mice without the mRNA were identified to be exceptionally resilient.
Miller and her team discovered that the mRNAs were conserved from mice to humans while researching on the brain tissue models from the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry. Subsequently, they found the levels of mir-135b-5p passenger strand higher in the blood samples of Dutch military veterans diagnosed with PTSD after having served in Afghanistan for a few months.
Miller expressed that going forward, she would like to explore the effect of time and gender on the response to treatment. She shared that data received from mice studies indicated that some unique mechanism was involved in the females. Further, she added that she was excited about the prospect of mir-135b-5p becoming a therapeutic target.
When one is exposed to a threatening incident, their bodies have a way of responding by going in the fight-or-flight mode, and they may start trembling or panicking. Human brains are structured in such a way that it responds to the fear immediately. While that instant response may save an individual life from a dreadful moment, they might continue to live in fear long after the dreadful situation has ceased to exist, leading to the development of PTSD. However, it might now be possible to get disengaged from these emotional reminisces of the trauma that trigger PTSD symptoms.
An expert care provider, Adeona Healthcare provides teen PTSD treatment to adolescents aged 12 to 17 at its facility in Rancho San Diego. At our center, teens with PTSD can address and work past their challenges in a friendly, safe, and compassionate environment. A healthier life can start now. Call our 24/7 helpline (888) 379-9360 for more information about teen PTSD treatment and how we can help. You can also chat online with a member of our admission’s team to learn more about our treatment programs and customized plans.