Evaluation of Stress Disorders

2014-07-24 14:33:55 | BioPortfolio


The purpose of this study is to examine the short-term consequences of trauma and to determine the effectiveness of the drug sertraline in preventing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder (ASD) symptoms.

ASD and PTSD are common consequences of exposure to traumatic events. Despite growing evidence of neurobiological dysfunction in ASD and PTSD, the origin of these disorders is still unknown. This study will attempt to identify psychophysiological markers of ASD and find an effective treatment for its symptoms.

Victims of serious motor vehicle collisions will be evaluated with clinical assessments and standardized questionnaires within 2 weeks after the accident. Symptoms of exaggerated startle, emotional reactivity to trauma-related and trauma-unrelated cues, and cerebellum functioning will be evaluated. Participants will be randomized to receive either sertraline or placebo (an inactive sugar pill) for 8 weeks. Psychometric testing and psychological evaluations will be conducted 4, 10, and 14 weeks after the accident and after a 2-week taper of the study medication.


Acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common consequences of exposure to traumatic events. Despite growing evidence of neurobiological dysfunction in ASD and PTSD, the pathogenesis of these disorders is still unknown. Drs. Osuch and Ursano (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences) have received support to conduct a 14-week study that will investigate the efficacy of the serotonergic medication sertraline (Zoloft) in the treatment and prevention of posttraumatic psychiatric sequelae in ASD victims. The present project is an amendment to Drs. Osuch and Ursano's study. It will attempt to identify early psychological and neurobiological abnormalities in ASD. More specifically, the present project will examine to what extent sensitization and conditioning processes, as well as emotional dysregulation, contribute to ASD. We also propose to investigate the potential association between cerebellum dysfunction and peritraumatic dissociations. To accomplish this goal, a series of three experiments will be implemented to investigate: 1) the symptom of exaggerated startle; 2) emotional reactivity to trauma-related and trauma-unrelated cues; and 3) cerebellum functioning using eyeblink conditioning. This study will inform on the short-term consequences of trauma, will help identify potential psychophysiological markers of ASD that emerge following trauma, and will examine the effects of an SSRI on preventing trauma-related neurobiological deficits.

We specifically propose to:

1. Characterize psychophysiological responses in ASD victims shortly after trauma;

2. Assess the effect of sertraline treatment on these psychophysiological responses.

To accomplish aim 1, non-treated ASD victims will be compared to two control groups, a non-ASD trauma group and a non-trauma healthy group. The two control groups will be used to disentangle the effect of trauma from the effect of acute stress disorder. To accomplish aim 2, the ASD sertraline group will be compared to the ASD placebo group following treatment.

Forty victims of serious motor vehicle collision (MVC) with ASD will be recruited from a community hospital emergency room and evaluated with clinical assessments, and standardized questionnaires within 2 weeks after the MVC. The subjects will then be randomized to either sertraline or placebo for 8 weeks duration. Psychometric testing and psychological evaluations will be conducted at 4, 10 weeks post-MVC, and after a 2-week taper of the medication and 2 more weeks (14 weeks post-MVC).

We hypothesize that ASD patients will show:

An enhancement or sensitization of baseline startle;

An increase in autonomic arousal and in startle amplitude to trauma-related cues;

A delayed eyeblink conditioning;

Normalization of these deficits after sertraline treatment.

This preliminary study is expected to lay the groundwork for a larger study of the early impact of traumatic events on psychophysiological and psychological processes. In the long-term, we expect to 1) better characterize the onset of symptoms and their evolution over time following trauma, 2) identify psychophysiological markers for PTSD, 3) identify ASD victims at-risk for PTSD, and 4) improve our ability to prevent the development of chronic psychopathology following trauma.

Study Design

Primary Purpose: Treatment


Acute Traumatic Stress Disorders




National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
United States




National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC)

Results (where available)

View Results


Published on BioPortfolio: 2014-07-24T14:33:55-0400

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Medical and Biotech [MESH] Definitions

A class of traumatic stress disorders that is characterized by the significant dissociative states seen immediately after overwhelming trauma. By definition it cannot last longer than 1 month, if it persists, a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (STRESS DISORDERS, POST-TRAUMATIC) is more appropriate.

A class of traumatic stress disorders with symptoms that last more than one month. There are various forms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depending on the time of onset and the duration of these stress symptoms. In the acute form, the duration of the symptoms is between 1 to 3 months. In the chronic form, symptoms last more than 3 months. With delayed onset, symptoms develop more than 6 months after the traumatic event.

Anxiety disorders manifested by the development of characteristic symptoms following a psychologically traumatic event that is outside the normal range of usual human experience. Symptoms include re-experiencing the traumatic event, increased arousal, and numbing of responsiveness to or reduced involvement with the external world. Traumatic stress disorders can be further classified by the time of onset and the duration of these symptoms.

Disorders in which exposure to a traumatic or stressful event is explicitly a diagnostic criterion.

A clinical syndrome with acute abdominal pain that is severe, localized, and rapid onset. Acute abdomen may be caused by a variety of disorders, injuries, or diseases.

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