New research uncovers the mechanism that regulates PTSD in the female brain


From humans to plants to single-celled organisms, there are proteins that govern everything.

From humans to plants to single-celled organisms, there are proteins that govern everything.

These proteins carry out the general maintenance of the cell, regulating it through its normal day-to-day functions.

Virginia Tech researchers found that one specific form of this ubiquitous protein has a distinct function in the female brain – helping to regulate events in memory that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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“These proteins are primarily thought of as proteins that mark other proteins for destruction,” said Tim Jarome, a professor in the School of Animal Sciences’ College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Performing this function in the context of PTSD in women is surprising.”

This protein, ubiquitin, even the name comes from ubiquitous because of its presence in all walks of life. The form of the protein that the researchers could manipulate, called K-63, was selective in forming fear memories in the female brain.

“Often, molecules are found in the brain that are involved in the formation of these fear-based memories in both sexes, and this is the first time we have found one that is selectively involved in one sex,” said Jarome. “Specifically, it was found in the sex that seemed more likely to experience PTSD. It is rare to find a sex-specific mechanism for regulating the causative factors of PTSD.”

This discovery could lead to the development of better therapeutic treatments. Kayla Farrell, Ph.D. candidate in the School of Animal Sciences, is the project leader.

This research was published recently in Molecular Psychiatry in the Nature Portfolio of the Journal. This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

PTSD is a complex disorder with a variety of therapeutic treatment options that include pharmacological approaches. By having specific molecules to target, pharmacological approaches can be considered.

“Currently, the treatment options are not very effective and the success rate is not very good,” said Jarome. “PTSD is not created equal among patients, and we know women are more likely to experience it. The therapeutic approach we take to treat it may have to differ between men and women. This may be a mechanism by which we can specifically target treatment at women as a way to treat PTSD.”


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