Can PET scans help those with PTSD?


PET scan could identify people with PTSD who are at risk of suicide according to Yale University.

Brain scans may be able to tell who is at risk of suicide by identifying high levels of a certain kind of cell associated with disordered thinking, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Yale University may have found just such a neurological indicator.

The team used PET scans to look at the brain structures and activities of 29 people with PTSD, 29 with depression and 29 with either disorder.

They found a clear distinction between the brains of those with PTSD and those without the disorder.

People who had PTSD or depression also had far more activity involoving the nneurotransmitter metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) – in not just one but five regions of their brains.

And those that had PTSD and reported suicidal thoughts or attempts had the highest activity of this receptor.

It’s not the first time that mGluR5 has been linked to mental health concerns.

Prior research in mice has shown that if the gene mGluR5 is masked, the animals will longer crave cocaine (although doing so does not get rid of behavioral signs of addiction).

The neurotransmitter is thought to be involved in our capacity for emotional learning as well as overall neuroplasticity – a measure of how able the brain is to form new and different synaptic connections.

When the transmitter’s activities are out of whack, it may play a role in the development of psychiatric disorders.

In the PET scans, a broad swath of green lights up in the brain of someone who has both PTSD and suicidal thoughts, showing where mGluR5 was active and moderating neuroplasticity in five areas.

In a healthy control’s brain scan, the green indicating mGluR5 activity winds through the outer regions of the brain, appearing much more scarcely.

All of this – coupled with their prior research – suggested to the study authors that mGluR5 be further looked at as a possible target for drugs that could suppress its activity back down to more normal levels and perhaps quiet suicidal thoughts.

Some 13 million Americans suffer PTSD. Another 16 struggle with depression.

But not everyone with one of the disorders has the other, and not everyone with either will become suicidal.

A clearer-cut test for PTSD and suicide risks could help to save the lives of an average 12 9 people that die by suicide every day.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms may be incomparably vivid to the person experiencing them, but the debilitating disorder may go unseen by doctors, family and friends.

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