PTSD may be tied to disrupted context processing

Is this mountain lion in a zoo, or your backyard? You'd respond differently to it depending on how your brain processes the context in which you're encountering it. A new theory of PTSD suggests people with that condition have disrupted context processing. Photo courtesy University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 7 (UPI) — Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Medicine have linked post-traumatic stress disorder to disruptions in a core brain function.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental condition that develops in response to witnessing or experiencing life-threatening events such as combat, natural disasters or sexual assault.

In a paper published in the journal Neuron, University of Michigan scientists theorize the disorder can be traced to the disruption of context processing. The authors seek to test their hypothesis in a comprehensive study.

Context processing is what allows humans and animals to react to a stimulus according to its context. They say a simple example would be recognizing a lion in a zoo is not a threat, while the same lion encountered in another context, such as a backyard, would be a threat.

“We hope to put some order to all the information that’s been gathered about PTSD from studies of human patients, and of animal models of the condition,” Israel Liberzon said in a press release. “We hope to create a testable hypothesis, which isn’t as common in mental health research as it should be. If this hypothesis proves true, maybe we can unravel some of the underlying pathophysiological processes, and offer better treatments.”

Liberzon and his partner James Abelson say the problem with prior PTSD scholarship is that studies have so far failed to sufficiently explain the diversity of symptoms. By examining context processing disruption, the authors believe they can explain the disparities in previous studies.

“If we look at all of it in the light of context processing disruption, we can explain why different teams have seen different things,” Liberzon added.

Liberzon and Abelson are recruiting PTSD patients from both military and civilian backgrounds to explore the disorder further.


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