Common antibiotic shows promise as novel PTSD treatment

pharmafile | April 5, 2017 | News story | Research and Development PTSD, UCL, antibiotic, doxycycline 

Research coming out of University College London (UCL) and the University of Zurich has indicated that common antibiotic doxycycline could be used to prevent or treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as evidence emerges of its ability to disrupt negative associations in the brain.

The findings were harvested from a trial of 76 healthy participants who were administered with either doxycycline or placebo, and shown various colours with a 50% chance of being given an electric shock in an attempt to build an association between the two, with fear responses being measured. When the participants were shown the same colours again, with no shock but instead a loud noise, fear response was 60% lower in those who had been given the antibiotic, without a negative effect on other cognitive measures.

Because PTSD is caused by overactive fear memory, the ability of doxycycline to reduce it shows glimmers of hope of the path towards a new class of treatment for the disorder.

Lead author Professor Dominik Bach, of the UCL Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging, Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry & Ageing Research and University of Zurich Division of Clinical Psychiatry Research, explained the goal of the study:

“When we talk about reducing fear memory, we are not talking about deleting the memory of what actually happened. The participants may not forget that they received a shock when the screen was red, but they ‘forget’ to be instinctively scared when they next see a red screen. Learning to fear threats is an important ability for any organism, helping us to avoid dangers such as predators. Over-prediction of threat, however, can cause tremendous suffering and distress in anxiety disorders such as PTSD.”

“We have demonstrated a proof-of-principle for an entirely new treatment strategy for PTSD,” Bach continued. “The theory is based on the recent discovery that our brains need proteins outside nerve cells, called matrix enzymes, to form memories. Matrix enzymes are found throughout the body, and their over-activity is involved in certain immune diseases and cancers. To treat such diseases, we already have clinically approved drugs that block these enzymes, including the antibiotic doxycycline, so we wanted to see if they could help to prevent fear memories from forming in the brain. Our results support this theory, opening up an exciting avenue of research that might help us to find treatments for PTSD.

“Using drugs to prevent PTSD would be challenging, since in the real world we don’t know when a traumatic event is about to occur. However, there is growing evidence that people’s memories and associations can be changed after the event when they experience or imagine similar situations. This is called ‘reconsolidation’, and we now plan to test the effect of doxycycline on reconsolidation of fear memories. If this is successful, we would hope to apply the technique to more clinically realistic models of PTSD within a few years.”

Matt Fellows

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