Using PET brain imaging, researchers from University of Pittsburgh showed that PTSD symptom severity is associated with fewer receptors in the midbrain and cerebellum—regions involved in the brain’s threat alarm system that process subconscious triggers of PTSD related to the trauma.
Fewer receptors for the anti-stress brain chemical nociceptin is associated with less severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in college women who have experienced sexual violence, according to a study in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier. The relationship between nociceptin receptor density and PTSD severity was present in women with recent PTSD symptoms but not those with past symptoms, suggesting a role for the receptors in recovery after sexual violence. Although studies in animal models of PTSD have shown that nociceptin promotes resilience, the receptors had never been studied in people with the disorder.
“These results suggest that decreased nociceptin receptor density is a marker of resilience and recovery following trauma,” notes lead author Rajesh Narendran, MD. “If future studies confirm these results, nociceptin receptor density may become an important resilience biomarker in the evaluation of PTSD.”