Common antibiotic displays efficacy in treatment of PTSD

The antibiotic doxycycline — which is commonly used to treat a myriad of conditions, including urinary tract infections and acne — can inhibit the formation of negative associations in the brain, which may prove effective in treating patients with post-traumatic stress, according to a new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

For the study, researchers enrolled 80 volunteers who gave written, informed consent approved by an ethics committee. Seventy-six participants satisfactorily completed the study and were included in the analysis. Half of the participants were given a placebo and the other half were given the antibiotic, then participants were placed in front of a computer screen, which would flash the colors blue and red. One of the colors would be associated with a 50 percent chance of a painful electric shock.

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Fear responses in the participants were measured. Researchers found fear responses in association with the color linked to electrical shock were 60 percent lower among the antibiotic cohort. Because PTSD is caused by an overactive fear memory, researchers believe the antibiotic could be useful in the treatment of the psychological condition.

"We have demonstrated a proof-of-principle for an entirely new treatment strategy for PTSD," said Dominik Bach, MD, PhD, and assistant professor in psychiatric research at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. "Using drugs to prevent PTSD would be challenging, since in the real world we don't know when a traumatic event is about to occur. However, there is growing evidence that people's memories and associations can be changed after the event when they experience or imagine similar situations. This is called 'reconsolidation', and we now plan to test the effect of doxycycline on reconsolidation of fear memories. If this is successful, we would hope to apply the technique to more clinically realistic models of PTSD within a few years."

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