Stress hormones can prevent disorders after a traumatic event

In a recent study, a group of researchers have found that the Ppm1f (Protein phosphatase 1f) gene is altered when exposed to traumatic stress and is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. People who have suffered from traffic accidents, war combat, terrorist attacks and exposure to other traumatic events have an increased likelihood of developing diseases.

These diseases can be psychological and physical, such as heart problems and cancer. The current preventive treatments based on psychological support and drugs are effective in some cases. Unfortunately, these treatments do not work for many individuals. It is also known that the earlier the treatment starts, the better to prevent future negative consequences.

Scientists have discovered in a study with mice and humans that the Ppm1f gene expression is one of the most highly regulated after exposure to traumatic stress. Ppm1f is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. The main function of Ppm1f is to regulate the activity of the protein Camk2 (Calmodulin-dependent protein kinase 2), which is key in many processes of the human body such as memory, the heart’s functioning and the immune system.
According to Dr. Raül Andero Galí, lead researcher in this study, “Once we discovered the relationship between the Ppm1f gene and different psychological disorders after exposure to traumatic stress, we wanted to find an effective drug to prevent these changes and its negative consequences on the brain.” Thus, the scientists administered the hormone to mice one hour after exposure to stress.
“The results confirmed a decrease in the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and also that this effect is because the Ppm1f gene changes are prevented,” explains Dr. Eric Velasco, researcher at the INc-UAB and co-author of the study. Andero added, “The apparent contradiction that the stress hormone decreases the likelihood of developing diseases after exposure to traumatic stress is one of the greatest paradoxes of current medicine. This study sheds light on this paradox and uncovers a way by which the stress hormone could prevent diseases, at least psychologically, through regulation of the Ppm1f gene.”

Antonio Florido, researcher of the INc-UAB and also co-author of the paper, noted, “Our discovery opens the door to a broader application and to the development of treatments aimed specifically at regulating this gene’s functions.” The study was published in journal Biological Psychiatry.

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