News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Does America Have PTSD?

By Judith Edersheim and Kenneth M. McCullough | The Huffington Post | July 27, 2016

America is afraid. There is fear of daily new terror attacks here or abroad. There is growing fear of rampant domestic gun violence. Fear that this person or that is ruining the country. It is fear aimed outward: witness the pervasive discourse of threat at the recent Republican National Convention. It is fear aimed inward: witness our 2.2 million people behind bars, a highly disproportionate number of whom are people of color. If our country were a person, we would view that person as anxious, reactive and reeling from years of trauma: major symptoms of PTSD.

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Genome-Wide Association Studies of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in 2 Cohorts of US Army Soldiers

By Murray B. Stein, Chia-Yen Chen, Robert J. Ursano, Tianxi Cai, Joel Gelernter, Steven G. Heeringa, Sonia Jain, Kevin P. Jensen, Adam X. Maihofer, Colter Mitchell, Caroline M. Nievergelt, Matthew K. Nock, Benjamin M. Neale, Renato Polimanti, Stephan Ripke, Xiaoying Sun, Michael L. Thomas, Qian Wang, Erin B. Ware, Susan Borja, Ronald C. Kessler, and Jordan W. Smoller | JAMA Psychiatry | May 11, 2016

Abstract:

Importance —  Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent, serious public health concern, particularly in the military. The identification of genetic risk factors for PTSD may provide important insights into the biological foundation of vulnerability and comorbidity.

Objective —  To discover genetic loci associated with the lifetime risk for PTSD in 2 cohorts from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS).

Design, Setting, and Participants —  Two coordinated genome-wide association studies of mental health in the US military contributed participants. The New Soldier Study (NSS) included 3167 unique patients with PTSD and 4607 trauma-exposed control individuals; the Pre/Post Deployment Study (PPDS) included 947 unique patients with PTSD and 4969 trauma-exposed controls. The NSS data were collected from February 1, 2011, to November 30, 2012; the PDDS data, from January 9 to April 30, 2012. The primary analysis compared lifetime DSM-IV PTSD cases with trauma-exposed controls without lifetime PTSD. Data were analyzed from March 18 to December 27, 2015.

Main Outcomes and Measures —  Association analyses for PTSD used logistic regression models within each of 3 ancestral groups (European, African, and Latino American) by study, followed by meta-analysis. Heritability and genetic correlation and pleiotropy with other psychiatric and immune-related disorders were estimated.

Results —  The NSS population was 80.7% male (6277 of 7774 participants; mean [SD] age, 20.9 [3.3] years); the PPDS population, 94.4% male (5583 of 5916 participants; mean [SD] age, 26.5 [6.0] years). A genome-wide significant locus was found in ANKRD55 on chromosome 5 (rs159572; odds ratio [OR], 1.62; 95% CI, 1.37-1.92; P = 2.34 × 10−8) and persisted after adjustment for cumulative trauma exposure (adjusted OR, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.39-1.95; P = 1.18 × 10−8) in the African American samples from the NSS. A genome-wide significant locus was also found in or near ZNF626 on chromosome 19 (rs11085374; OR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.70-0.85; P = 4.59 × 10−8) in the European American samples from the NSS. Similar results were not found for either single-nucleotide polymorphism in the corresponding ancestry group from the PPDS sample, in other ancestral groups, or in transancestral meta-analyses. Single-nucleotide polymorphism–based heritability was nonsignificant, and no significant genetic correlations were observed between PTSD and 6 mental disorders or 9 immune-related disorders. Significant evidence of pleiotropy was observed between PTSD and rheumatoid arthritis and, to a lesser extent, psoriasis.

Conclusions and Relevance —  In the largest genome-wide association study of PTSD to date, involving a US military sample, limited evidence of association for specific loci was found. Further efforts are needed to replicate the genome-wide significant association with ANKRD55—associated in prior research with several autoimmune and inflammatory disorders—and to clarify the nature of the genetic overlap observed between PTSD and rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

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Is Helplessness Still Helpful in Diagnosing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

By Ekaterina Pivovarova, Gen Tanaka, Michael Tang, Harold J. Bursztajn, and Michael B. First | The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease | January 2016

Abstract:

Criteria A2, experience of helplessness, fear, or horror at the time of the traumatic event, was removed from the posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. We argue that there is empirical support for retention of A2, a criterion that has clinical value and may improve diagnostic accuracy. Specifically, we demonstrate that A2 has high negative predictive power, aids in the prediction of symptom severity, and can be indispensible to detecting the disorder in children. We examine how augmenting A2 with other peritramautic emotions could improve clinical and diagnostic utility. In our opinion, rather than being eliminated, A2 needs to be reconstructed and included as one criterion of PTSD.

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A Systematic Review of Dropout From Psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Iraq and Afghanistan Combat Veterans

By Elizabeth M. Goetter, Eric Bui, Rebecca A. Ojserkis, Rebecca J. Zakarian, Rebecca Weintraub Brendel, and Naomi M. Simon | Journal of Traumatic Stress | September 16, 2015

Abstract: 

A significant number of veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yet underutilization of mental health treatment remains a significant problem. The purpose of this review was to summarize rates of dropout from outpatient, psychosocial PTSD interventions provided to U.S. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) veterans with combat-related PTSD. There were 788 articles that were identified which yielded 20 studies involving 1,191 individuals eligible for the review. The dropout rates in individual studies ranged from 5.0% to 78.2%, and the overall pooled dropout rate was 36%, 95% CI [26.20, 43.90]. The dropout rate differed marginally by study type (routine clinical care settings had higher dropout rates than clinical trials) and treatment format (group treatment had higher dropout rates than individual treatment), but not by whether comorbid substance dependence was excluded, by treatment modality (telemedicine vs. in-person treatment), or treatment type (exposure therapy vs. nonexposure therapy). Dropout is a critical aspect of the problem of underutilization of care among OEF/OIF/OND veterans with combat-related PTSD. Innovative strategies to enhance treatment retention are needed.

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Brain Scientists Learn To Alter And Even Erase Memories

WBUR CommonHealth | By Rachel Gotbaum | July 24, 2014
(part of the Brain Matters: Reporting from the Frontlines of Neuroscience series)

For 32 years, Leslie Ridlon worked in the military. For most of her career she was in army intelligence. Her job was to watch live videotape of fatal attacks to make sure the missions were successful.

“I had to memorize the details, and I have not got it out of my head, it stays there — the things I saw,” she says. “The beheading — I saw someone who got their head cut off — I can still see that.”

Ridlon is now 49 and retired from the military last year, but she finds she cannot work because she suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder. She has tried conventional therapy for PTSD, in which a patient is exposed repeatedly to a traumatic memory in a safe environment. The goal is to modify the disturbing memory. But she says that type of therapy doesn’t work for her.

“They tried to get me to remember things,” she says. “I had a soldier who died, got blown up by a mortar — he was torn into pieces. So they wanted me to bring that back. I needed to stop that. It was destroying me.” Continue reading »