Glial Regulators for Testing Comorbid Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders

2016-09-22 20:53:29 | BioPortfolio


As a result of sustained operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are an increasing number of U.S. military Veterans with substance use disorders and comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If left untreated, individuals with substance use disorders and PTSD are at increased risk for developing other mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety), suicidal ideation and attempts, medical problems, reduced resiliency and military readiness, vocational problems, and family/social impairment. This study will determine the benefits of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in treating alcohol use disorder and comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among military Veterans.


As a result of sustained operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are an increasing number of U.S. military Veterans with substance use disorders and comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While mental health services are in place for U.S. service members, substantial gaps in the treatment of co-occurring substance use disorders and PTSD exist and there is little scientific evidence available to guide the provision of care. Treatment for comorbid substance use disorders and PTSD, especially pharmacologic treatment, is largely ineffective and short-lived. While there have been numerous studies focused largely on dopaminergic mechanisms of reward, they have not led to the development of adequate treatments for comorbid substance use disorders and PTSD. Animal models demonstrate that (a) acute stress and chronic use of addictive substances reduce the capacity of glia to remove the neurotransmitter glutamate, and (b) this impairment as well as relapse can be prevented or reversed by N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Further, human studies indicate that NAC is associated with reduced craving and substance use. Based on this, the investigators conducted a PoP study which was the first to examine the use of NAC for the treatment of PTSD, with or without comorbid addiction. In this randomized, controlled double-blind pilot study the investigators showed that Veterans with substance use disorders (81.5% alcohol use disorder) and PTSD who were treated with 2400mg NAC for 8 weeks demonstrated significant reduction in PTSD severity and craving. Moreover, reductions in PTSD and substance-related symptomatology were sustained at 1-month follow-up. However, to extend and confirm its clinical utility in the military/Veteran context, it is important to know whether NAC reduces severity of alcohol use disorder (AUD), the most common addiction among Veterans and military service members, and the mechanisms underlying therapeutic response. Based on promising data from the PoP project, the proposed Extend-and-Confirm (EC) study will determine the efficacy of NAC in reducing AUD and comorbid PTSD in Veterans (N=90). Further, new aims include the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to investigate the pathophysiology of AUD/PTSD, as well as prognostic indicators of treatment outcome. These aims extend the Future Plans proposed in the original PoP study and provide an opportunity for collaboration among clinical and preclinical investigators at the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to solve this critical health problem in the military context. In the proposed EC study, the investigators will (1) employ a randomized, double-blind, between-groups experimental design that will consist of 8 weeks of treatment with NAC (2400mg) or placebo medication, and follow-up assessment at 1-, 3-, and 6-months post treatment; (2) use standardized, repeated dependent measures to rigorously assess AUD severity and PTSD symptomatology during treatment and follow-up; (3) collect biologic measures of alcohol use; (4) measure impairment in associated areas of functioning (e.g., depression, sleep, suicidality, risky sexual behaviors, family/social functioning); and (5) employ advanced neuroimaging techniques before and after treatment among a subset of enrolled subjects. This proposal is directly responsive to the missions of the Institute for Translational Neuroscience (ITN), and the US Army/Department of Defense (DoD) in that it seeks to accelerate the development of new, medication-based treatments to mitigate the impact of AUD and comorbid psychological conditions, such as PTSD, in the military/Veteran context. The findings of this study will provide critically needed empirical evidence to help inform practice guidelines and better serve the needs of U.S. service members, Veterans and their families.

Study Design

Allocation: Randomized, Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment, Masking: Double Blind (Subject, Caregiver, Investigator), Primary Purpose: Treatment


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


N-acetylcysteine, Placebo, Cognitive behavioral therapy


Medical University of South Carolina
South Carolina
United States


Not yet recruiting


Medical University of South Carolina

Results (where available)

View Results


Published on BioPortfolio: 2016-09-22T20:53:29-0400

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