Voelcker Academy

Research Symposium 2012


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Rachel Weems

Neurobiological Mechanisms in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Rachel Weems

Mentor(s): M. Danet Lapiz-Bluhm, PhD, RN

  • PTSD is a debilitating anxiety disorder following an exposure to trauma with symptoms of intrusive recollections (re-experiencing), avoidance/numbing, and hyper-arousal.
  • An estimated 50-60% of the US population will experience serious trauma at some point in their lives.
  • About 5-10% of these individuals will develop PTSD 2, although this may be up to 20% in Service Members exposed to combat.
  • PTSD may be associated with an impairment in prefrontal executive function, especially the inability to shift cognitive sets appropriate for the environment, and modulate impulsive responding.
  • The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a complex feedback system that controls the body’s response to stress and stimulates the production of cortisol.
  • The HPA axis can be disrupted following a traumatic event, although the nature of this involvement is not fully understood.
  • Our goal is to characterize the prefrontal set-shifting function and biomarker for HPA axis function in individuals with PTSD symptoms.