Talk therapy may reverse biological changes in PTSD patients

December 3, 2013, Elsevier

A new paper published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) not only reduces symptoms but also affects the underlying biology of this disorder.

The researchers, led by Dr. Szabolcs Kéri at the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions and University of Szeged in Hungary, recruited 39 individuals diagnosed with PTSD to participate in the study. For a comparison group, they also included 31 individuals who had been exposed to trauma, but who did not develop PTSD. The individuals with PTSD then received 12 weeks of , whereas the non-PTSD group received no therapy.

Before and after the 12 weeks, the researchers measured the volumes of certain brain regions using . They also collected blood samples to measure changes in expression of a specific gene, FKBP5, which has been implicated in the risk for developing PTSD and plays a role in regulating stress hormones.

Before therapy, compared with the control group, patients had lower FKBP5 and smaller hippocampal and medial orbitofrontal cortex volumes, important involved in learning, memory, and emotion regulation.

At the follow-up appointment 12 weeks later, the PTSD patients showed higher expression of FKBP5 and increased hippocampal volume. More importantly, these changes were directly associated with clinical improvement among the patients. The increased FKBP5 expression, and to a lesser degree the increased , actually predicted improvement in their PTSD symptoms.

"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," explained Kéri. "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," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

Why are these results important? The findings suggest that talk therapy may modulate fundamental biological factors: changes in gene expression, brain structure, and psychological improvement may be closely interrelated. These conclusions highlight even further the importance of early invention in PTSD development and treatment.

Explore further: Increased risk for cardiac ischemia in patients with PTSD

More information: The article is "Association Among Clinical Response, Hippocampal Volume, and FKBP5 Gene Expression in Individuals with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Receiving Cognitive Behavioral Therapy" by Einat Levy-Gigi, Csilla Szabó, Oguz Kelemen, and Szabolcs Kéri (DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.017). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 74, Issue 11 (December 1, 2013)

Related Stories

Increased risk for cardiac ischemia in patients with PTSD

December 2, 2013
There is growing concern that long-term untreated posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms may increase the risk of developing a number of medical problems, particularly compromised cardiovascular health.

PTSD psychotherapy is enhanced with D-cycloserine

June 4, 2012
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is among the most common, distressing, and disabling medical consequences of combat or other extremely stressful life events. The first-line treatment for PTSD is exposure therapy, a type ...

PTSD raises risk for obesity in women

November 20, 2013
Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gain weight more rapidly and are more likely to be overweight or obese than women without the disorder, find researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health ...

Children are significantly more likely to develop PTSD if the mother is already afflicted

November 27, 2013
A Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) study indicates that children are more likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if their mother is already afflicted.

Maternal posttraumatic stress disorder associated with increased risk for child maltreatment

September 2, 2013
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in mothers appears to be associated with an increased risk for child maltreatment beyond that associated with maternal depression, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics.

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Reducing sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy does not affect effectiveness

January 17, 2018
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients treated with as few as five sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy find it equally effective as receiving 12 sessions.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.