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Glucocorticoids for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias: a novel therapeutic approach


de Quervain, D J F; Margraf, J (2008). Glucocorticoids for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias: a novel therapeutic approach. European Journal of Pharmacology, 583(2-3):365-371.

Abstract

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias belong to the most common anxiety disorders and to the most common psychiatric illnesses in general. In both disorders, aversive memories are thought to play an important role in the pathogenesis and symptomatology. Previously, we have reported that elevated glucocorticoid levels inhibit memory retrieval in animals and healthy humans. We therefore hypothesized that the administration of glucocorticoids might also inhibit the retrieval of aversive memory, thereby reducing symptoms in patients with PTSD and phobias. In recent clinical studies, we found first evidence to support this hypothesis. In patients with PTSD, low-dose cortisol treatment for one month reduced symptoms of traumatic memories without causing adverse side effects. Furthermore, we found evidence for a prolonged effect of the cortisol treatment. Persistent retrieval and reconsolidation of traumatic memories is a process that keeps these memories vivid and thereby the disorder alive. By inhibiting memory retrieval, cortisol may weaken the traumatic memory trace, and thus reduce symptoms even beyond the treatment period. In patients with social phobia, we found that a single oral administration of cortisone 1 h before a socio-evaluative stressor significantly reduced self-reported fear during the anticipation-, exposure-, and recovery phase of the stressor. In subjects with spider phobia, repeated oral administration of cortisol 1 h before exposure to a spider photograph induced a progressive reduction of stimulus-induced fear. This effect was maintained when subjects were exposed to the stimulus again two days after the last cortisol administration, indicating that cortisol facilitated the extinction of phobic fear. In conclusion, by a common mechanism of reducing the retrieval of aversive memories, glucocorticoids may be suited for the treatment of PTSD as well as phobias. More studies are needed to further evaluate the therapeutic efficacy of glucocorticoids in the treatment of anxiety disorders and to explore the potential of combining glucocorticoid treatment with psychotherapy.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias belong to the most common anxiety disorders and to the most common psychiatric illnesses in general. In both disorders, aversive memories are thought to play an important role in the pathogenesis and symptomatology. Previously, we have reported that elevated glucocorticoid levels inhibit memory retrieval in animals and healthy humans. We therefore hypothesized that the administration of glucocorticoids might also inhibit the retrieval of aversive memory, thereby reducing symptoms in patients with PTSD and phobias. In recent clinical studies, we found first evidence to support this hypothesis. In patients with PTSD, low-dose cortisol treatment for one month reduced symptoms of traumatic memories without causing adverse side effects. Furthermore, we found evidence for a prolonged effect of the cortisol treatment. Persistent retrieval and reconsolidation of traumatic memories is a process that keeps these memories vivid and thereby the disorder alive. By inhibiting memory retrieval, cortisol may weaken the traumatic memory trace, and thus reduce symptoms even beyond the treatment period. In patients with social phobia, we found that a single oral administration of cortisone 1 h before a socio-evaluative stressor significantly reduced self-reported fear during the anticipation-, exposure-, and recovery phase of the stressor. In subjects with spider phobia, repeated oral administration of cortisol 1 h before exposure to a spider photograph induced a progressive reduction of stimulus-induced fear. This effect was maintained when subjects were exposed to the stimulus again two days after the last cortisol administration, indicating that cortisol facilitated the extinction of phobic fear. In conclusion, by a common mechanism of reducing the retrieval of aversive memories, glucocorticoids may be suited for the treatment of PTSD as well as phobias. More studies are needed to further evaluate the therapeutic efficacy of glucocorticoids in the treatment of anxiety disorders and to explore the potential of combining glucocorticoid treatment with psychotherapy.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IREM)
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:24 January 2008
Deposited On:29 Dec 2008 21:05
Last Modified:16 Aug 2016 10:13
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0014-2999
Publisher DOI:10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.11.068
PubMed ID:18275950
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-9065

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