For some who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, all it takes is seeing an empty soda bottle on the side of the road to trigger traumatic memories.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a study Sept. 18 describing how the Tet1 gene could aid in treating patients with PTSD and addictions.
Andrii Rudenko, a post-doctoral associate from MIT, explained that the Tet1 gene is responsible for “memory extinction” and what helps the average person recover and move on from traumatic events.
If this gene is absent or reduced, it becomes difficult for stressful memories to be forgotten — like in most PTSD sufferers, Rudenko said.
“If Tet1 is not present any longer, a new memory cannot be formed to kick out an old memory,” Rudenko said.
Exposure therapy is also a treatment option for PTSD sufferers. Patients can undergo different “virtual reality” sessions to ultimately see that they are safe and free from harm, he said.
“After multiple treatments, patients will realize nothing is happening to them. The feeling of being scared does not totally disappear, but association with safety is rebuilt,” Rudenko said.
He said bad memories can mostly be diminished because people can always re-learn.
Memories might have the potential to be diminished, but they cannot be selectively erased, said Barry Setlow, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Florida.
Setlow said he explains to his students how PTSD patients behave by using an animal scenario. He says if you’re a zebra living out in the plains somewhere and a lion jumps out, assuming you escape, it behooves you to remember where lions live if you want to survive in the future. The downside is you could develop PTSD.
“There are always ways to lessen the likelihood of developing PTSD after traumatic events,” Setlow said. “Individuals who come in the hospital can undergo treatment to try to block certain stress hormones.”
PTSD is defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association (ADA) as a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape or other life-threatening events.
PTSD affects 7.7 million Americans 18 and older, according to the ADA. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to, flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts, easily startled, difficulty sleeping and outbursts.