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Researchers Find First Ever Biological Marker for PTSD - Women with Increased PACAP Hormone Levels Are More Prone to PTSD

In the study of women who had been exposed to severe trauma, those with high levels of PACAP experienced 5 times the PTSD symptoms of those with below normal levels of the hormone. This is the first biological marker ever discovered that could identify which people are at increased risk of the anxiety disorder.

When people experience a stressful situation, the body releases a hormone called pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) which plays a role in controlling metabolism, immune response, reaction to pain and other bodily functions. If you’re a woman, how much PACAP you’ve got circulating in your body may also play a role in determining if you succumb to PTSD after a traumatic experience.

Researchers at The University of Vermont and Emory University say they’ve pinned down PACAP as the first biological marker for PTSD risk – and that in their research, women with high levels of PACAP were as much as 5 times more likely to experience significant PTSD symptoms after a major trauma (men did not seem influenced by variable levels of PACAP).

To come to this conclusion, the research team took data from the Grady Trauma Project, a project run out of the ER and other depts. of Grady Memorial Hospital, which is situated in a violence plagued part of Atlanta. Of the participants of this project, the researchers took data from 64 women who had experienced severe trauma and compared levels of PACAP in the blood to levels of PTSD symptoms experienced.

They found that women with high levels of PACAP experienced 5 times more PTSD symptoms than women with lower than average levels of PACAP.Vermont University anatomy and neurobiology professor and lead researcher Victor May, PhD talked about the significance of finding the first ever biological marker linked to PTSD, saying, "These studies may offer opportunities to distinguish people with PTSD and related anxiety disorders from other behavioral disorders, and identify people in high stress occupations or environments who may be prone to PTSD.”

The researchers are now looking to replicate their findings among other groups with high levels of PTSD, such as veterans, and looking towards testing medications that reduce PACAP as possible aids in the fight against the debilitating anxiety disorder.

The full research findings can be read in the February 24th edition of Nature.

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