Drugs that reduce ghrelin levels, originally developed to try to combat obesity, could help protect people who are at high risk for PTSD, such as soldiers serving in war, says
"Perhaps we could give people who are going to be deployed into an active combat zone a ghrelin vaccine before they go, so they will have a lower incidence of PTSD. That's exciting because right now there's nothing given to people to prevent PTSD," says Goosens, who is also a member of
Lead author of the paper is Retsina Meyer, a recent MIT PhD recipient. Other authors are McGovern postdoc
Stress and fear
Stress is a useful response to dangerous situations because it provokes action to escape or fight back. However, when stress is chronic, it can produce anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
In the new paper, Goosens and her colleagues found that the release of the growth hormone in the amygdala is controlled by ghrelin, which is produced primarily in the stomach and travels throughout the body, including the brain.
Ghrelin levels are elevated by chronic stress. In humans, this might be produced by factors such as unemployment, bullying, or loss of a family member. Ghrelin stimulates the secretion of growth hormone from the brain; the effects of growth hormone from the pituitary gland in organs such as the liver and bones have been extensively studied. However, the role of growth hormone in the brain, particularly the amygdala, is not well known.
The researchers found that when rats were given either a drug to stimulate the ghrelin receptor or gene therapy to overexpress growth hormone over a prolonged period, they became much more susceptible to fear than normal rats. Fear was measured by training all of the rats to fear an innocuous, novel tone. While all rats learned to fear the tone, the rats with prolonged increased activity of the ghrelin receptor or overexpression of growth hormone were the most fearful, assessed by how long they froze after hearing the tone. Blocking the cell receptors that interact with ghrelin or growth hormone reduced fear to normal levels in chronically stressed rats.
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