Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders Associated with Severe Stress, Particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Stress induced affective disorders last up to a life time after traumatic stress, as happens in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Severe stress is a serious problem since 50-60% of North Americans experience traumatic stress in their lifetimes, and of those 15% may develop PTSD.
Moreover, affective disorder follows terrorist attacks (e.g. New York, September 11, 2001). Rising world terrorism increases the need to understand mechanisms of stress induced changes in brain underlying affective disorders. This research has led to the development of animal models of lasting increases in anxiety produced by stress.
Three processes are under study: initiation (brain processes initiated by stress necessary to initiate anxiety), consolidation (brain processes persisting after stress) and maintenance (brain processes persisting a long time, underlying lasting anxiety). This research has shown that lasting changes in communication between cells in the emotional centers of the brain highly predict anxiety following stress. Through studying these underlying brain processes it is hoped that stress induced emotional disorders can be better prevented (through understanding initiation processes) and treated (through understanding processes of consolidation and maintenance).