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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Fighting Fear: Researchers Seek Targets for Treatment


At present, PSTD is treated using common behavioral techniques. These techniques are based upon either gradual or frequent exposure of the patient to symbolic triggers of their emotional trauma. The goal of this therapy is to help them gain a sense of mastery over the experience.

Medications also may be used. But for the most part, these medications are used to treat associated symptoms, such as feelings of anxiety.

The goal of the new treatments would be to suppress the fear-related response caused by the amygdala, when it occurs at inopportune moments, Davis says. In essence, he tells WebMD, the goal of the new treatments would be to reinforce the behavioral therapy by helping the amygdala to master the experience as well.

One such compound might be an inhibitor of glutamate, a chemical that transfers messages between nerves and that has been shown to influence various brain functions, Davis says. By inhibiting this chemical in certain parts of the brain, scientists may be able to assist the amygdala to suppress the fear-related response when exposed to symbolic triggers, he says.

According to Davis, there is a desperate need for these types of treatments. Despite the development of newer agents such as Prozac, which has antidepressant and antianxiety properties, the actual treatment of people's fears and phobias has remained largely difficult because these disruptive memories easily can be re-triggered, he says.

But because scientists know very little about these messenger chemicals in general, Davis says the development of treatments may take some time. Besides finding the right chemicals to target, the drugs will also need years of testing to ensure that they are safe and effective.

Still, the present research offers a lot of hope because it at least pinpoints where the fear response may have its origin.

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