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PTSD: National Center for PTSD


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Clinical Neurosciences Division Laboratories


About Us

This section is about our Mission, Vision, Staff, & Press Room

This section is about our Mission, Vision, Staff, and Press Room

Clinical Neurosciences Division Laboratories

Research undertaken at the Clinical Neurosciences Division is facilitated by a number of laboratories focused on the physical basis of how the brain receives and processes traumatic stress. A description of each laboratory at this Division follows.

Clinical Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics: Drs. Southwick and Morgan

This laboratory studies human performance and is comprised of a consortium of military training sites which gives National Center for PTSD researchers an opportunity to study different aspects of performance under conditions of realistic stress. Specifically, we are able to examine how service members think, reason, remember and make decisions under stress in addition to the ways they relate to others and perform physically. Measuring neuropsychologic performance, physiological performance, and changes in neurohormones helps us to understand the factors that predict or are related to stress hardiness, stress vulnerability, and real world performance in the military. Research involves experimental psychopharmacologic and neuroendocrine paradigms for studying the neurobiology of PTSD, and evaluates the use of novel pharmacological agents for treating PTSD.

Molecular Neuroimaging

This laboratory conducts research dedicated to the evaluation of the biological basis of PTSD, mood, and anxiety disorders. The program aims to generate models, which consider biological and psychosocial factors in the pathogenesis of PTSD including the identification of the interplay of genetic factors and brain function to determine an individual's risk to develop PTSD. Using state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques, this program is determined to evaluate the relative contribution of environmental and biological factors in the pathophysiology of PTSD and its co-morbid conditions. Using positron emission tomography (PET) which allows in vivo evaluation of biological processes that are believed to play a critical role in the etiology of PTSD, this group is in the process of identifying potential novel targets for treatment development.

Molecular Neuroscience

This laboratory studies the molecular and cellular basis of complex behaviors, particularly those related to stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and the responses and mechanisms underlying the actions of psychotropic drugs. This multidisciplinary program of research includes: identification of gene expression profiles using custom and whole genome microarray platforms; secondary validation at the mRNA and protein levels; modulation of targeted genes by pharmacological, recombinant, viral vector, and mutant mouse approaches; analysis of neuronal and glial cell proliferation, maturation and survival; and behavioral analysis using established models of stress, anxiety, and depression/antidepressant responses. This preclinical, rodent work is complemented by postmortem gene expression profiling of brain tissue from subjects with major psychiatric illnesses, including depression and PTSD. This integrated approach has resulted in the discovery of novel gene targets underlying the actions of stress and antidepressant agents.

Cognitive Neuroscience

This laboratory investigates the impact of war zone stress on the body and how it effects mental abilities such as learning, memory, and concentration using a variety of tools, including brain imaging (fMRI) and physical reactivity (skin conductance, vagal tone). The objective is to better predict which Service Members are resilient as opposed to those who develop PTSD, by understanding the neurobiological differences between these groups. Research focuses on how Service Members react to stressful memories from deployment and how they learn safety and danger signals.

Molecular Genetics: Dr. Gelernter

This laboratory is focused on understanding the genetic basis of psychiatric illness, including PTSD, substance dependence, and anxiety disorders. This is accomplished primarily via genetic linkage and association studies, employing DNA from human subjects. In essence, we look for differences in genes between people who are affected with the illness, and people who are not affected. Gene variants that are shared by more people with a disorder than those without are likely to be related to disease risk.

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