An Oxford study was published in the January 2014 issue of the Psychiatry Journal of the American Medical Association. It concludes that victims who sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), such as after a serious car accident or slip and fall, and survived after six months, are at significantly higher risk of death. TBI victims show a higher rate of suicide, substance abuse, assaults and other subsequent injuries. The scientists involved believe that their study should serve as a wake-up call to clinicians and other researchers to look into revising clinical guidelines to address the high rates of ancillary-mental conditions and substance abuse that tends to follow TBIs.
After a catastrophic accident, or any significantly-distressful event, some personal-injury clients will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). Currently, PTSD is mostly treated through therapy with the goal of more deeply understanding the anxiety so that one may eventually overcome and sever the tie between anxiety and the traumatic event. Psychotherapy doesn’t always work. Some scientists theorize that this is because the event that led to the PTSD becomes too strong of a memory in the sufferer’s mind – almost like it is written in indelible ink.
But what if the memory could be overwritten?
MIT scientists have been testing a cancer-fighting compound known as a HDAC2 protein inhibitor, believing that it might be able to remove fear-inducing memories in mice. The study was published in a January 2014 issue of the Cell medical journal.
To instill a fearful memory in mice – researchers electrify an area of their living environment. When the mice begin avoiding the area and showing signs of distress when forced nearby, researchers conclude that an anxiety-linked memory is in place.
Through this kind of research, scientists have also been able to deduce that the older a memory becomes the harder it is to change that memory. They noticed this by comparing a 24-hour-old fearful memory to a 30-day-old fearful memory. Through therapy (i.e. attracting the mouse to the once-fearful area with an appealing treat), the mice with recent-fearful memories were more likely to eventually return to the formerly-electric area of their cage.
When retraining a 24-hour-old fearful memory, researchers found that the HDAC2 protein became inactive – causing a process that the researchers believe allows the brain to make new memories and overwrite old ones.
The HDAC2 protein tended to remain active in the brains of mice with 30-day old fearful memories. In other words: it was much harder to get the mice with the older memory to overcome their fear of the previously-electrified area of their cage.
The implication (if similar principles are at work in humans) stresses the importance of PTSD sufferers to get help quickly.
The MIT researchers began administering HDAC2 inhibitors in mice with 30-day-old fearful memories and found significant improvements in their ability to overcome the anxiety-inducing area of the cage. If similar results are found in humans, HDAC2 protein inhibitors could be combined with therapy to treat phobias, PTSD and other anxiety-related mental disorders.