Researchers Find Blood Biomarker That Can Potentially Help Prevent, Cure PTSD


Feb 6, 2020


Image Credit: Tomás Pichardo-Espaillat

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, “is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” 44.3% of those who survived Orissa’s super cyclone in 1999 had post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Athletes who experience injuries like concussions while playing sports can experience PTSD. Women who are sexually assaulted often battle vivid memories of their assault, a PTSD symptom, for decades after the incident. And, the often inevitable connection between military service and PTSD is well known.

Though PTSD is treatable via medication and psychotherapy as of now, scientists recently identified a unique blood-based biomarker present in individuals coping with the disorder. They discovered a collection of proteins involved in cellular function, the level of whicht is persistently elevated in patients with PTSD. This discovery could potentially mean a simple blood test is all it would take to diagnose PTSD, and that a potentially quicker physiological treatment could aid in the prevention or cure of a complex psychiatric disorder.

“We believe this protein [cluster] normally increases after severe stress, but in most cases, levels soon go back to baseline levels. However, in those who develop PTSD, the protein [cluster] remains persistently elevated, and so this could be a blood-based biomarker for PTSD, as well as being a target for pharmacological treatment,” study author and co-director of the division of neuroscience and clinical translation, department of psychiatry, at the University of Toronto, Dr. Fang Liu, said in a statement.

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In response to the discovery, researchers developed a peptide (which, like proteins, are also comprised of amino acids) to target and disrupt the binding of the protein cluster. They found that this disruption prevented the involuntary recall of particular memories that induced fear, which is one of the primary symptoms of PTSD. This signals that the peptide could be used to physiologically treat PTSD symptoms, or even prevent them entirely.

“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,” added Liu.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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