An internationally recognised Tel Aviv University researcher in Israel has found that administering an injection of the stress hormone cortisol shortly after exposure to a traumatic event may lower the chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Prof. Joseph Zohar, from the university's Sackler Medical School who advises institutions like the World Health Organization, is currently taking his animal model findings to the U.S. National Institute of Health, hoping to start clinical trials on this exploratory research within the next year.
Revealing the findings of his animal studies in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the researcher has highlighted the fact that a diagnosis of PTSD is presently made only after an individual has been living with an acute stress reaction for one month, which may be too late to counteract the syndrome.
"Ten to twenty percent of all individuals exposed to trauma develop PTSD. The challenge is to try to prevent or reduce these numbers. Until now, the clinical and research focus has been on treating PTSD once it developed. We propose to shift the focus to prevention. Based on an animal model, our new clinical findings pave the way for a potential preventive treatment for future victims via cortisol injections," says Prof. Zohar.
When people without PTSD are exposed to a traumatic event, their bodies immediately increase the production of cortisol, which later returns to normal levels. However, in those diagnosed with the disorder, there is less secretion of cortisol after exposure, and this underproduction is believed to increases vulnerability to condition.
In their study, researchers from both Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University found in an animal model that a high dose of corticosterone, when given immediately after the stress event, reduced the effect of trauma in mice.
The researchers think that corticosterone may dampen an animal's ability to "remember" the initial trauma time and time again.
During the mouse experiment, the "stressor" was litter soaked in cat urine.
The team observed that 25 per cent of the mice presented with the litter showed signs of extreme stress, which they correlated to acute stress reaction in humans.
According to them, mice given shots of corticosterone shortly after their exposure were significantly less "tense" when reminded of the initial trauma by the presentation of a "stressor reminder" stimulus.
The researchers say that their next step will be to try this approach on humans in a controlled clinical setting.
"The animal model we developed has given us the basis for investigating this important condition, and it has become an essential tool for clinicians around the globe," adds Prof. Zohar.