The Lieber Institute for Brain Development (LIBD), an affiliate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, announced today the establishment of the world's largest collection of postmortem human brains with a confirmed diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mental illnesses like PTSD are brain disorders, and the collection at LIBD allows researchers to study brain tissue to uncover potential molecular targets for both the prevention and treatment of PTSD.
Since opening in 2012, LIBD has acquired over 2,200 brain samples for research critical to understanding mental illness; the largest collection for the study of developmental brain disorders in the world. With collection sites in Maryland, Michigan and California, the repository continues to grow at a rate upwards of 500 new cases per year. Thus far, over 100 of the brains collected meet the medical criteria for PTSD.
PTSD is a debilitating psychiatric and disorder that follows a traumatic event and is characterized by extreme sense of fear at the time of trauma followed by re-experiencing events, avoidance and hyperarousal, months and years afterwards. About 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to be traumatized by sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury. Approximately 8% of people in the United States will be diagnosed with PTSD, which has a prevalence as high as 30% in soldiers how have served in combat. A recent estimate of soldiers serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom found that 13.8% met the criteria for PTSD.
The paper affirming the Lieber Institute's PTSD brain repository as the largest in the world was published June 13, 2017 in the Journal of Neuroscience Research. The paper, titled "Implementation and clinical characteristics of a posttraumatic stress disorder brain collection," can be found online here: https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.24093.
"In order to understand the underlying mechanisms of mental illness, we must study the brain itself," said LIBD Director and CEO Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D. "We believe that by establishing the world's largest postmortem brain collection for the study of neuropsychiatric illnesses, scientific research will accelerate towards new discoveries and novel treatments for brain disorders like PTSD."
In a longitudinal study published earlier this month, researchers in the Netherlands examined the molecular biology that underlies differential susceptibility to traumatic stress, which can lead to PTSD.
Using epigenetic markers in blood samples, the researchers were able to identify three different locations in the genome where exposure to trauma marked susceptibility for developing PTSD. These findings represent a significant step towards understanding the underlying biological changes that determine why certain individuals who experience trauma go on to have PTSD and others do not. Further research utilizing brain tissue will be critical to identifying potential molecular targets that could lead to novel treatments to improve the lives of individuals suffering from PTSD.
The Lieber Institute for Brain Development is an independent, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization and a Maryland tax-exempt medical research institute. Visit: www.libd.org.