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Cognitive behavioral therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) not only reduces symptoms but also affects the underlying biology of this disorder. This conclusion of new research suggests that talk therapy may modulate fundamental biological factors: changes in gene expression, brain structure and psychological improvement.
Researchers recruited 39 people diagnosed with PTSD to participate in the study. For a comparison, they included 31 people who had been exposed to trauma, but who did not develop PTSD. The individuals with PTSD had 12 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy whereas the non-PTSD group received none. The volume of certain brain regions were measured using MRI. Blood samples were collected to measure the change in a specific gene, FKBP5, which has been associated with risk for developing PTSD and plays a role in regulating stress hormones.
Before therapy, compared to the control group, the PTSD sufferers had lower FKBP5 gene expression and smaller hippocampal and medial orbitofrontal cortex volumes. These are areas of the brain important for learning, memory and emotion regulation. Twelve weeks after therapy began, the PTSD patients showed higher expression of FKBP5 and increased hippocampal volume. These changes were directly associated with improvement among the patients.
“The results show that structural changes in the brain, such as the shrinkage of the hippocampus, are reversible in trauma victims. Talk therapy may help normalize these alterations and improve symptoms,” explained Keri. “Furthermore, the regeneration of hippocampus correlated with the expression of a gene that balances the activity of the stress hormone cortisol at the level of cells.”
The study also shows the importance of early intervention and treatment.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Biological Psychiatry
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