In a new study, researchers found a potential way to improve a common treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
They helped the brain learn to respond less severely to fearful conditions.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School.
Previous studies have shown that exposure therapy is the current gold standard for PTSD treatment and for reducing anxiety.
The therapy helps people confront fearful memories in a safe setting, away from the actual threat. In therapy, patients gradually approach their trauma-related memories and feelings.
In the current study, the team examined the brain activity of 46 healthy adults.
They replaced an unpleasant electric shock on the participants’ wrist with a surprise neutral tone or simply turned off the shocks.
Then the next day both groups of participants saw a picture of a face paired with an electric shock on the wrist.
The participants’ brain responses to the fear-conditioned pictures were measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
In addition, their emotional responses to the threat of receiving an electric shock were measured via the sweating from their hands.
The researchers found that replacing the feared shocks with a neutral tone was linked to stronger activity in brain regions critical for inhibiting fear and learning safety.
It also lowered participants’ emotional reactions to electric shock. In addition, the participants reported long-lasting memory of safety.
The finding suggests that replacing an expected threat with an innocuous sound may help the brain better control its fear response.
The researchers suggest that their finding may be a potential improvement to exposure therapy for PTSD.
It is possible to develop a simple treatment, in which neutral and unexpected events replace expected aversive events.
This may help capture patients’ attention and the brain can learn to regulate fear more effectively.
The lead author of the study is Joseph Dunsmoor, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Dell Medical School.
The study is published in Journal of Neuroscience.
Copyright © 2019 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.