While the American Psychological Association has recognized posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental illness for more than 40 years, there is still much that remains unknown about the illness, which causes overwhelming feelings, flashbacks, related depression, and more in some who experience a traumatic event. One unknown has been why some survivors of such events develop the disorder while others do not.
Scientist with the Advancing Understanding of RecOvery afteR traumA (AURORA) study set out to find answers to this issue. The AURORA Study is a national, multi-institution project, led by Temple University researchers and funded by the National Institutes of Health, non-profits, and tech companies, that looks to foment PTSD prevention and treatment avenues. Project scientists studied participating patients’ brain and behavioral responses in the two weeks following a traumatic event and found a link between hippocampal activity and risk of developing—and developing more severe—PTSD symptoms.
Using brain-imaging, laboratory testing, and surveys, AURORA researchers discovered that participants with less activity within the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory and learning, coupled with greater defensive reactions to “startling events following trauma,” developed more severe symptoms than their counterparts. The study results also suggest that these individuals with stronger responses to threats may have difficulty learning information about their situations and distinguishing between safe and unsafe environments.
Temple University Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and the study’s senior author, Dr. Vishnu Murty explained, “These findings are important both to identify specific brain responses associated with vulnerability to develop PTSD, and to identify potential treatments focused on memory processes for these individuals to prevent or treat PTSD.”
This study’s findings are only the latest of many discoveries made by the Aurora Study. The national collaboration has numerous projects looking to help better understand PTSD development, prevention, and treatment.