Manipulating the protein in the brain which is responsible for fear and panic could provide a therapeutic treatment for PTSD in women

PTSD in women is twice as common than in men, as almost 1 in 10 develop the condition.

What causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Any dangerous or life-threatening event, trauma, or intensely scary situation can increase the risk of PTSD.

PTSD is a complex disorder with a variety of therapeutic treatment options, including pharmacological approaches. Now, researchers from Virginia Tech exploring brain proteins are looking for a specific molecule to target – for new pharmacological approaches to be considered.

This research demonstrates how one specific form of this ubiquitous protein has a different function in the female brains – it helps regulate events in the memory that cause PTSD.

The protein responsible for forming fear memories

From humans to plants to single-cell organisms, there is always a protein that operates through them all. Doing the ‘general housekeeping’ of the cells, the protein ‘ubiquitin’ regulates them through normal daily functions.

As ubiquitin has a presence across all walks of life, the form of this protein can be manipulated, known as K-63, which is selective in forming fear memories in the female brain.

Researchers find that if this protein is manipulated, it can provide insight into how to reduce symptoms of PTSD in women.

Treatments for PTSD in women are limited

Tim Jarome, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Animal Sciences, said: “The protein is primarily thought of as a protein that marks other proteins to be destroyed. For it to be doing this function in the context of PTSD in females is very surprising.

“Oftentimes, molecules are found in the brain that are involved in forming these fear-based memories in both sexes, and this is the first time that we found one that’s selectively involved in one sex.

“In particular, this was found in the sex that seems to be more likely to have PTSD. It’s rare to find these mechanisms that are specific to one sex in terms of regulating the underlying factors that cause PTSD.”

The discovery could lead to the development of better therapeutic treatments

As of today, treatments for PTSD in women are limited.

Jarome said: “Right now, treatment options are not very effective and the success rate isn’t very good. PTSD is not created equal among patients, and we know females are more likely to have it. The therapeutic approaches that we take to treat it might have to differ between males and females.

“This may be a mechanism in which we could specifically target treatment in females as a way to treat PTSD.”

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