Neurons of PTSD Patients React Differently to Stress

December 8, 2022

Summary: It is no secret that some people are genetically prone to PTSD. Some individuals are poor-tolerant of stress responses. Postmortem studies show that the neurons of people with PTSD are sensitive to glucocorticosteroids. Now researchers have found a new way to confirm this hypothesis by creating brain cells of PTSD patients from their stem cells. This also helped them identify genes associated with glucocorticosteroid sensitivity. This study also opens the door for future studies and post traumatic stress disorder treatment.

It is no secret that two people react differently to stress. Therefore, two individuals may go through similar kinds of circumstances, but one may develop PTSD, and another not. Hence, it is also relatively easy to guess that these individual differences have much to do with genetics. However, what is challenging is to understand what genetic differences predispose one to PTSD and make another resilient.

Understanding the exact reason and identifying how the neurons of PTSD patients differ from those who are more stress resilient is essential for finding effective post traumatic stress disorder treatment and remedies. Moreover, genetic editing tools are also progressing; in the near future, genetic editing or therapy may become common. First, however, there is a need to identify the exact genetic causes leading to PTSD. Further, understanding the precise mechanism may even help find effective treatments.

Science already knows a lot about stress reactions. They know that certain hormones play an important role in stress-related ailments. In chronic stress symptoms, cortisol and other corticosteroids play a vital role. These hormones are secreted excessively during periods of chronic stress symptoms. However, high-stress hormone levels are not enough to explain the development of PTSD in people.

In some individuals, high-stress hormone levels do not cause mental health issues like PTSD. However, studies from postmortem brains show that in those living with PTSD, brain cells or neurons are more sensitive to certain types of stress hormones like cortisol or glucocorticoids. This hypersensitivity to these hormones makes some people more likely to develop signs of PTSD.

However, there are some limitations of studies done on a dead brain. Therefore, confirming the hypothesis on living brain cells is essential. However, there are numerous challenges in studying live brain cells. After all, one cannot readily and safely extract cells from the brains of those living with PTSD.

Therefore, researchers used another more innovative technique to confirm their hypothesis that glucocorticoid sensitivity has much to do with PTSD diagnosis. They used stem cells from PTSD patients to create young brain cells.

These neurons created from stem cells are more like the brain cells before those people developed signs of PTSD. Hence, they allow an understanding of how the brain cells of those prone to PTSD react to various types of stress. Using this method is almost like using a time machine. Since these cells created from stem cells have all the weaknesses present in these patients since birth, they are still unlike mature brain cells already affected by PTSD.

Such an approach ensures that researchers can precisely identify the predisposing factors, as they can eliminate changes that occur due to PTSD. These are relatively healthy cells, yet cells that are prone to PTSD.

During the experiments, researchers found that these brain cells derived from stem cells of those living with PTSD were more sensitive to glucocorticosteroids. They could also find that this occurred due to the presence of specific genes contributing to PTSD-dependent glucocorticoid response.

This study provided new insights. It demonstrated that stem cells of PTSD patients could be used to understand the molecular mechanism of PTSD, stress responses, and conduct drug screening to find effective treatments.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA