16 Jan 2014

New study identifies drug that could improve treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition marked by severe anxiety stemming from a traumatic event such as a battle or violent attack.

Many patients undergo psychotherapy designed to help them re-experience their traumatic memory in a safe environment so as to help them make sense of the events and overcome their fear. However, such memories can be so entrenched that this therapy doesn’t always work, especially when the traumatic event occurred many years earlier.

MIT neuroscientists have now shown that they can extinguish well-established traumatic memories in mice by giving them a type of drug called an HDAC2 inhibitor, which makes the brain’s memories more malleable, under the right conditions. Giving this type of drug to human patients receiving psychotherapy may be much more effective than psychotherapy alone, says Li-Huei Tsai, director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT

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