The Chemistry of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Introduction

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PTSD, also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is caused when a person experiences an ordeal that causes physical harm or mental harm.  The individual was either harmed, someone close to them was harmed, or they experienced events that was imprinted in their brains.  This disorder was first discovered in veterans of wars but it can also show up in people that were abused, violated, accidents, or natural disasters.  The reason behind my reason to choose this type of theme for my project is that my dad got PTSD from his many deployments in Iraq, Bosnia Herzegovina, and also Kuwiat and I feel like this is a good way to show other kids how bad PTSD can be and just a little information on the subject so that they know what goes on in the brain if a loved one has it.  PTSD doesn’t affect just one person.  So many people in the United States and all over the world have the disorder but we just don’t see it because people hide it so well because they don’t want their loved ones to worry.  It doesn’t just affect one individual.  It affects an entire world.


Composition of ...

Most people may think not very much goes into PTSD but so many things are in the disorder that you can research so much and still not get every little thing in it.  The components and chemicals of this disorder are:

  • Hippocampus

  • Amygdala

  • Noradrenaline (norepinephrine)

  • Dopamine (Dopamine hydrochloride: C8H11NO2 HCl)

  • Serotonin (C10H12N2O)

  • Opioid systems

  • Insulin (C257H383N65O77S6)

  • Cortisol (C21H30O5)

  • HPA or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal

  • Traumatic experience or event

  • Memory

  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

  • Neurotransmitters


Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

In PTSD, there are two main parts of the brain that are affected and also where all the chemical imbalance in the disorder is located at.  The two main parts are the Hippocampus and the amygdala.

The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is located inside one of the folds of the brain so it is not identifiable by the human eye but the way we can find it is that it is located at the temporal lobe which lies right under the temple of the human body.  An important function that the hippocampus does is that it makes information into memory and stores it in the brain. So, for example, someone experiences a traumatic event in their life and they can’t forget about it even though they try really hard to.  The hippocampus has taken this traumatic event that this person has and stored it in their brain as a memory which explains how PTSD works.  This part of the brain can also send connections to the amygdala which then could explain the beginning of strong emotions triggered by specific memories or events.  But it is not just for making memories.  It also plays a huge roll in the making of creating new brain cells for the brain.  The hippocampus may look intimidating but it can be affected very easily.  Alzheimer’s Disease, Epilepsy, and little blood flow are just some of the injuries the hippocampus could have.

The other big part of PTSD is the amygdala.  Like the hippocampus, it is also part of the limbic system and is also inside the brain just above the hippocampus and the lateral ventricle.  This is the epicenter of emotional behavior, emotions, and also motivation.  A lot of signals from the other brain parts go to the amygdala because it then makes those signals into emotion.  The amygdala can produce components of emotion such as heart rate changes, blood pressure changes, and also respiration changes in the body.  While the hippocampus makes memory, the amygdala takes those memories and combine them with emotion which could explain why certain memories produce certain emotions for us such as happiness and fear.  This is where the “fight-or-flight” mechanism comes into play.  Since so many alarm circuits of the human body are located in the amygdala, there is a lot of triggers that can activate the “fight-or-flight” response.


Chemistry's Role

You may not think that chemistry is involved in disorders but chemical imbalances are such a big thing in PTSD and other disorders.  When we look at PTSD and the two main parts- the amygdala and hippocampus,- we see a very big chemical imbalance in both brain parts.  In the amygdala, we see a heightened level of norepinephrine, a chemical involved in stimulation and stress.  This chemical strengthens the emotional reactions of the amygdala which then we can correlate it to the brain part being more hyperactive in people with the disorder.  The hippocampus, however, is affected by chronic stress.  Chronic stress makes the brain part smaller and also kills neurons and also the growth of new neurons.  Due to this elimination of neurons, the neurochemical system in the brain become over sensitized and in which makes PTSD.

Another chemical imbalance of the disorder is the overproduction of cortisol, the hormone of stress that is produced in the adrenal gland.  This hormone raises blood pressure and also produces high sugar levels or insulin.  With more insulin, the blood sugar level can decrease which in turn can make the hypothalamus, another region in the brain that is responsible for the hormone production, sends out a false signal of glucose being kept away from the brain.  This false signal is then sent to the adrenal gland that says to increase adrenaline which then makes the high stress symptoms of PTSD.  This is just one of the many chemical imbalances in the body that cause PTSD.  Other chemical imbalances are the increased release of noradrenaline, increased dopamine which makes the person more hyper aware and paranoia, and also the increased release of opioid which is an internal painkiller of sorts. Going back to the amygdala and hippocampus, this is where the memory part comes into play.  The hippocampal volume is lower in people with PTSD which can explain the trauma exposure or memory deficits.  But the memory is not a full memory but fragments of the memory that repeat whenever a trigger of some sort can be seen as a reminder of that event.


Background Research


PTSD can happen to anyone and everyone from children to adults. Symptoms of this disorder in adults can include:

Flashbacks
Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
Irritability or outbursts of anger
Hypervigilance
Guilt, shame, or self blame
Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
Depression
Substance abuse
Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Symptoms in children can include:

Fear of being separated from parent
Sleep problems and nightmares without recognizable content
New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma
Aches and pains with no apparent cause
Irritability and aggression

This disorder can not be taken away from the person but there are different things that can help the person through it such as Behavioral Counseling and a medication called Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors.  A loved one that has PTSD is not hopeless.  You can help them by just being there for them in their time of need and also when they need someone to listen.


Resources

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml


  • PTSD, also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is caused when a person experiences an ordeal that causes physical harm or mental harm.  The individual was either harmed, someone close to them was harmed, or they experienced events that was imprinted in their brains.  This disorder was first discovered in veterans of wars but it can also show up in people that were abused, violated, accidents, or natural disasters.

  • Other causes can also be genes.  Scientist have been looking a specific genes that creates memories of fear.  Stathmin is the protein need to form fear memories.  When this is made, memories of fear start to arise.  

  • Another cause is GRP or gastrin-releasing peptide.  This is a signaling chemical in the brain that is released during emotional events.  The more GRP, the more help you get control of the fear.  The less you get, it can lead to lasting fear.  Scientist have also found a version of a gene that controls the level of serotonin which is a chemical in the brain related to moods that can fuel the fear response.


http://www.helpguide.org/mental/post_traumatic_stress_disorder_symptoms_treatment.htm


  • Symptoms (adults)

    • Nightmares

    • Flashbacks

    • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb

    • Irritability or outbursts of anger

    • Hypervigilance

    • Guilt, shame, or self blame

    • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal

    • Depression

    • Substance abuse

    • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

  • Symptoms (children)

    • Fear of being separated from parent

    • Sleep problems and nightmares without recognizable content

    • New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma

    • Aches and pains with no apparent cause

    • Irritability and aggression


http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htatrit/20091230.aspx

  • PTSD patients have lower levels of neurosteroids in their brains than those who are normal.  Increasing levels have reduced the disorder.


http://maketheconnection.net/conditions/ptsd?gclid=COezm5GUhr0CFa5DMgod7CoAqQ


  • Treatment (Two types)

    • Counseling (Behavioral)

    • Medication (Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors)



http://www.brainfacts.org/across-the-lifespan/stress-and-anxiety/articles/2009/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/


  • People with PTSD have heightened levels of norepinephrine, a chemical involved in stimulation and stress.  High levels of norepinephrine strengthens the emotional reactions of the amygdala.

  • The amygdala is a brain region involved in the fear response.  It weakens functions of the prefrontal cortex which normally allows people to suppress troubling memories or thoughts.

  • When D-cycloserine is used with behavioral therapy, it enhances the process of fear extinction.


http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-causes-ptsd/000162


  • Researchers have been studying the neurochemicals that have been associated with PTSD.  

  • New evidence has been found that the HPA or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal, a hormonal system, becomes messed up in people that have PTSD.  This system is mostly involved with most stress reactions and can be known as a false alarms in people with the disorders.

  • Scientist have been suggesting that a messed up function in the HPA results in damage to the hippocampal in people with the disorder.

  • Brain imagery studies show the people with PTSD have two brain sections that are associated with the disorder; the hippocampus and amygdala.

  • Hippocampus plays an important role in the formation of memory and the amygdala is involved with how we learn about fear.

  • Recent evidence have shown that the amygdala is more hyperactive in people with the disorders.

  • It also shows that that the hippocampus starts losing volume.  This is probably due to the memory deficits and other symptoms.




http://www.coccyx.org/treatmen/cycloser.htm


  • D-cycloserine is an antibiotic and is also a drug that affects the brain.

  • It can also help with many disorders and also helps with phobias.


http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Brain--Brain-Chemistry--And-PTSD


  • Chemicals that are in PTSD:

    • noradrenaline

    • dopamine

    • serotonin

    • opioid systems

    • insulin

    • cortisol

  • Research has suggested that chronic stress of a major type may make the hippocampus smaller and kill neurons and also slow the growth of new neurons.

  • Due to the eliminating of neurons, the neurochemical system in the brain become over sensitized and in which makes PTSD.

  • Widely studied chemical in PTSD is cortisol which is produced in the adrenal gland and this is also called the hormone of stress.

    • It is called this because it raises blood pressure and also blood sugar levels.

  • Not only does cortisol raise blood pressure it also produces more insulin than normal and can overdrive.

  • With more insulin, the blood sugar level can decrease which in turn can make the hypothalamus send out a signal that glucose is being kept away from the brain.

  • This signal then sends a message to the adrenal gland that says to increase adrenaline which then makes the high stress symptoms


http://www.ptsdsupport.net/biology&PTSD.html


  • A main component of PTSD is memory.


http://www.psycheducation.org/emotion/hippocampus.htm


  • The hippocampus is part of a system that makes information into memory and stores it in your brain.  This system is called the limbic system.

  • This region the hippocampus is located at is part of the temporal lobe which lies right under our temple.

  • It is not identifiable at first because its an inside fold.

  • This part of the brain is crucial because it plays a key role in the making of new memories.

  • This also plays a role in the making of new brain cells.

  • The hippocampus is majorly affected by estrogen.  Pictures have shown that estrogen makes the connections to other cells expand and become bigger with estrogen.

  • Injuries that the hippocampus can have are little blood flow, Alzheimer’s Disease, and most importantly epilepsy.


http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s4/chapter06.html


  • The amygdala is part of the limbic system like the hippocampus.

  • The amygdala is main center of emotional behavior, emotions, and motivation.

  • Like the hippocampus, it is inside the brain not outside just above the hippocampus and the lateral ventricle.

  • Receives signals from a lot of other brain parts because it is important in emotional learning.

  • The amygdala’s nucleus produces components of emotions such as:

    • heart rate changes

    • blood pressure changes

    • respiration

  • This combines internal and external stimuli and is also where memory and emotions are combined.

  • The roles of emotional learning and memory comes from fear conditioning.


http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_04/i_04_cr/i_04_cr_peu/i_04_cr_peu.html


  • Amygdala is a structure of the brain that is important for decoding emotions and particular stimuli that could be threatening the organism.

  • Many alarm circuits of the human body are grouped in the amygdala.

  • Hippocampus sends many connections to the amygdala which could explain the beginning of strong emotions triggered by specific memories.

    • Also works in processing sets of stimuli which could explain why a traumatic event can provoke anxiety

  • Info. from stimulus that are external can take two different pathways:

    • fast, short, but imprecise route (from the thalamus)

    • slow, long, but precise route (by the cortex)


http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_04/i_04_cr/i_04_cr_peu/i_04_cr_peu.html


  • Noradrenaline (aka norepinephrine)


http://www.rxlist.com/dopamine-drug.htm


  • Dopamine (dopamine hydrochloride)

  • C8H11NO2 HCl


http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232248.php


  • Serotonin (C10H12N2O)


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cortisol


  • Cristol (C21H30O5)


http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Brain--Brain-Chemistry--And-PTSD

  • traumatic chronic stress can shrink the hippocampus and kill neurons and slow down the development and growth of new neurons

  • The brain’s neurochemical system, in people with PTSD, can become over sensitized and results in the symptoms

  • chemical-neurological reactivity can affect parts of the brain that do functions such as learning, memory, and fear

  • Cristol - stress hormone - can cause increase in blood pressure, blood and sugar levels


http://ptsd.about.com/od/symptomsanddiagnosis/a/hippocampus.htm


  • When we experience stress, the hormone cortisol is released.  This hormone is also helpful in the body to respond to a stressful event so in people


http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/causes.html


  • imbalance of a substance called neurotransmitters which are chemical messengers in the brain

  • gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

  • in people with PTSD, the amygdala is highly sensitive to unfamiliar situations and this causes a high stress response to the situation that can either be good or bad.  This can also store the memories of this event in the brain.


http://www.brainexplorer.org/ptsd/ptsd_aetiology.shtml


  • People with PTSD like male combat veterans and women survivors of childhood sexual abuse have lower hippocampal volumes.  These lower volumes can be correlated with trauma exposure or memory deficits.

  • the amygdala in people with PTSD have increased amygdala activity when exposed to a trigger that reminds them of the event.

  • memory in PTSD is not a full memory but fragments of the memory

  • noradrenaline has an increased release

  • dopamine can make a person more hyper aware and even have paranoia

  • opioid are released more during the trauma in order to act as an internal painkiller of sorts.  The opioid system is used more by people with PTSD.

http://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/hypothalamus

  • The hypothalamus is the region of the brain that is responsible for hormone production


http://www.rxlist.com/humalog-drug.htm


  • Insulin - C257H383N65O77S6


About the Author

Malia Schoenenberger is a student at Billings Senior High School that loves reading and also writing stories in her free time.  She loves hanging out with friends and also just sitting back on and relaxing on the weekends after a long week of school.  She is part of the few students in the National Honor Society and also was in the Junior National Honor Society in middle school.  When she gets out of high school, Malia will be going to college at Montana State University Billings and getting her major in English and Literature.  Sometime in the near future, she will also become a world renowned author around the world, writing paranormal fiction.

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