Existence-threatening experiences can lead to severe psychiatric disorders. In fact, only 5-15 % of the exposed individuals develop posttraumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder or the like, indicating that trauma-spectrum diseases do not represent inevitable consequences of traumatic events but maladaptive processes in response to them. The molecular correlates of these pathological adaptation processes are still mostly unknown.Hence the project group, together with the outpatient clinic for trauma-spectrum disorders, headed by Dr. Schmidt, aims at elucidating the molecular underpinnings of posttraumatic stress disorder and related diseases employing a translational research concept: By closely connecting molecular biological/biochemical analyses, clinical trials and animal studies we strive for the identification of biomarkers and pathomechanisms underlying psychotrauma-spectrum disorders – finally pursuing for the development of novel therapeutic strategies.
The history of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is long: Already approximately around 1900 B.C., an Egyptian physician illustrated psychological changes in war veterans. In 1889, the German neurologist Hermann Oppenheim (1858-1919) described the symptom complex of the disorder known today as PTSD in his - at his time disputed - work “The Traumatic Neuroses". PTSD was first defined as a distinct diagnosis in the 3rd edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-III), published in 1980 and was included in the "International Classification of Diseases" (ICD) of the WHO not until the 1990s. Hence, the field of PTSD-research is relatively young. At the beginning of 2010, there were still only two drugs officially approved for PTSD-treatment.
PTSD belongs to the anxiety disorders and comprises three central symptoms, namely re-experiencing of traumatic events (flashbacks, intrusions), hyperarousal and avoidance behavior.
The Research Group around Carsten Wotjak demonstrated that mice develop PTSD-like symptoms after having received an electric footshock. Within this mouse model, we have recently begun searching for PTSD-pathomechanisms as well as for DNA, RNA and protein biomarkers. In addition, we soon will start a clinical PTSD-biomarker-trial aiming at identifying epigenetic, genetic, gene expression, protein, endocrine and psychometric biomarkers in the course of PTSD treatment. Furthermore, we have recently commenced the MPI Historic Brain Bank Project and we i.a. also look for genetic and proteomic changes in historic brain specimens of patients that suffered from PTSD-equivalent illnesses like "fright neurosis", etc.
Besides these animal, clinical and neuropathological biomarker screening studies we analyze several potential PTSD candidate molecules employing molecular biology methods to examine function and role of the co-chaperone FKBP5, neuropeptides, the DNA binding protein p20, the mineralocorticoid receptor, a distinct transmembrane protein, etc. Taken together, with the aim to support the development of novel therapeutic strategies for PTSD, we try to elucidate PTSD pathogenesis employing a variety of different scientific analysis methods and PTSD-phenotypes.