Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Female Veterans Wanted for New PTSD Study

November 7, 2012

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HOUSTON - Researchers at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) and Baylor College of Medicine are currently looking for female Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who are interested in participating in a study examining the role a neuropeptide called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) plays in causing PTSD symptoms. The results may help to identify and develop potential medications to treat PTSD.

PTSD can be caused by any traumatic event such as war, a car accident, abuse, or a natural disaster.  People who have these kinds of experiences sometimes begin to suffer flashbacks, bad memories or dreams, extreme irritability, trouble sleeping, along with other difficulties.

Not all victims of trauma suffer from PTSD, but those who do may begin to experience these symptoms immediately after the event, several months, or even years later. Either way, the symptoms of PTSD can seriously disrupt a person's life.

Originally, researchers believed that when a person experiences a threatening situation, the brain produces cortisol, a stress hormone that tells the victim to fight or run away. Cortisol is known as the "fight or flight" hormone. Research has shown higher levels of cortisol may actually hurt the brain and be linked to PTSD symptoms.

Over the years, researchers have studied PTSD to try to understand the underlying brain processes. New studies have shown symptoms may be caused not only by cortisol, but also by elevated levels of a CRF. CRF acts as a chemical messenger in the brain and controls the release of cortisol and other hormones named catecholamines.

It is believed that varying levels of CRF in the brain have an effect on the stress symptoms experienced by those suffering from PTSD.  This is likely because abnormal levels of CRF also result in abnormal levels of chatecholamines and cortisol.  Though these processes are thought to play an important part in the development of PTSD symptoms, their exact role is not entirely understood.

Researchers have also found women may be at higher risk for developing PTSD than men. Some studies suggest this is because women are more likely to experience traumatic events, like abuse and sexual assault. Other studies disagree and report that after a traumatic event, women are more likely to ruminate over the event and become more stressed.

Studies have shown women are two times more likely to develop PTSD than men. Since PTSD symptoms can be so disabling, potentially causing depression or even suicide, it is important that researchers develop effective PTSD treatments.

Treatment options currently available for PTSD are limited. The most common and effective treatment involves a combination of talk therapy and psychotropic medications, such as anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. With information about CRF and PTSD symptoms, researchers are trying to develop medications that incorporate these findings.

Researchers at MEDVAMC and Baylor College of Medicine are currently looking for female Veterans with PTSD who are interested in participating in this important study. If you are a woman between the ages of 21 and 64 years, have experienced PTSD symptoms in the past month, and do not have any current substance abuse, you may be eligible for the study. The study lasts six weeks and is conducted at MEDVAMC and Baylor College of Medicine. It involves taking an investigational drug intended to change CRF levels; thereby, reducing the severity of the symptoms of PTSD. Participants may receive compensation for their time.

If you are interested in participating in the study, contact the research team at 1-877-96-BCM-MOOD (226-6663) or email mood@bcm.edu.

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