On Feb. 15, UCLA life scientists published in the journal Biological Psychiatry a study that reveals a causal link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and an increased susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder. The study also suggests that those suffering from even mild TBIs are more likely to develop anxiety disorders. The information confirms the fact that individuals suffering from brain injuries should take precautions to avoid stressful situations that could exacerbate their condition.
The study was motivated by an observed link between TBI and PTSD, particularly in military veterans returning from campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was not known if the events surrounding the initial brain injury were traumatic enough to cause PTSD, or if the disorders could be linked in a “more mechanistic way”, as hypothesized by Michael Fanselow, the senior author of the study.
To test the hypothesis, scientist carried out a variety of procedures on rats to separate physical and emotional traumas. The scientists used fear conditioning techniques two days after the rats experienced concussive brain traumas. It was discovered that rats who had incurred TBIs were more vulnerable to fear than those rats who had not received prior injuries.
To examine why this occurred, researchers analyzed a small piece of brain tissue called the amygdala, the part of the brain where fear is learned.
According to Maxine Reger, A UCLA graduate student of psychology and a lead contributor to the study, “We found that there are significantly more receptors for excitatory neurotransmitters that promote learning.”
The findings suggest that TBIs leave the amygdala in a more excitable state in which it is more ready to acquire fear.
The research, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the UCLA Brain Injury Center will hopefully have a positive effect on troops with TBIs. Troops who undergo traumatic brain injuries while in the field need to take the necessary time to recover before returning to active duty. Otherwise they are putting themselves at risk for serious anxiety disorders.
The study just gives more credence to the fact that there are strong links between TBI and other behavioral health conditions. A TBI treatment facility can help prevent individuals with brain injuries from acquiring related health conditions.