I have posted many studies on anxiety treatment, depression, OCD and ADHD, especially with regards to the role that genetics and the environment play in mental illness. Some studies have shown that stress can turn certain genes on of off thus resulting in a predisposition to anxiety. Most disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia have a genetic and physiological connection. As with stress manipulating the genes responsible for anxiety, there is a good chance that stressful events can change the body chemistry resulting in PTSD. A recent study seems to suggest that they have isolated a chemical in the brain that is responsible for lingering anxiety and maybe PTSD. A major factor in PTSD treatment is acquiring the ability to “forget” the underlying traumatic events; and the level of dynorphin may have a direct impact in the ability to move beyond these anxiety provoking memories.
New Study Shows Link Between PTSD, Anxiety and Dynorphins
Studies have demonstrated that people with lower levels of dynorphins have more persistent activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that governs the stress response. Dynorphins are a naturally occurring peptide that is also associated with the reduction of pain. There are three families of opioid peptides produced by the body: enkephalins, endorphins, and dynorphins. The increased level of dynorphin may play a key role in how one “forgets” the traumatic experience thus helping the anxiety or PTSD diminish.
Endorphins that are released after intense exercise are responsible for the runner’s high. Dynorphin is in the same family of chemicals and is responsible for mitigating the emotional response that is associated with stressful or traumatic events. Some people have a harder time than others stepping out of the emotional memory or ruminating over these events and it may be dynorphin that’s responsible for the difference. That is to say that our body chemistry does play a role in our thought processes and this would explain one of the reasons why people seem to have trouble with re-living past traumatic events. Understanding the body chemistry and how it relates to PTSD will lead to better PTSD treatment in the future.
A recent study showed that a group of mice were bred to not express the gene responsible for dynorphin had a prolonged stress response after being given unpleasant electric shocks. The mice remained anxious far longer after the shocks subsided than would be expected. Normal mice reacted to the shocks the same way early on, but as time passed, their stress reactions subsided at a normal rate.
Next, researchers applied the same logic to human participants whose levels of dynorphin fluctuate and vary by nature. People who had lower levels of dynorphin kept reacting to unpleasant stimuli longer than people who had more dynorphin. The people with lower levels of dynorphin also had more persistent activity in their amygdales, the area of the brain that governs the stress response. Finally, they also had less communication between their amygdalas and the prefrontal cortex areas of the brain which is responsible for conscious thought and executive function.
Researchers emphasize the fact that getting past stressful events is not a passive process – the brain is actually working hard to reconfigure itself after the event. Learning to get beyond the memory of acquired anxiety reactions isn’t a fading, but, rather, an active process, and may be facilitated by dynorphin. The architecture of the brain is ever changing and strongly impacted by our environment and how we react to it. This is especially true of those through the ages of early adulthood.
This Connection May Lead to Newer Treatments for PTSD and Anxiety
Hopefully the results will lead to new treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD and perhaps for other anxiety disorders, which affect many millions of people across the world. This may even open the door to new medications that regulate the levels of dynorphin similar to the SSRIs and SNRIs. Maybe in the future we will have dynorphin re-uptake inhibitors to treat anxiety and treat panic disorder? Some studies have also concluded that dynorphin may serve as an antidote to cocaine addiction. Most PTSD treatment would entail medication, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, maybe brain-spotting and other techniques of teaching you how to make friends with the “ghosts of the past”. Are you seeking for an experienced Scottsdale psychiatrist? If you need an initial evaluation or seeking PTSD treatment please call my office to schedule an appointment. The research was carried out by a team at Universität Bonn. If you are seeking an experienced psychiatrist in Scottsdale please contact me to schedule an appointment.