Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is among the most common and disabling psychiatric casualties of combat and other extremely stressful situations. People suffering from PTSD often suffer from vivid intrusive memories of their traumas. Current medications are often ineffective in controlling these symptoms and so novel treatments are needed urgently.
In the February 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier, a group of basic scientists shed new light on the biology of stress effects upon memory formation. In so doing, they suggest new approaches to the treatment of the distress related to traumatic memories. Their work is based on the study of a drug, RU38486, that blocks the effects of the stress hormone cortisol.

In an animal model, investigators showed that treatment with RU38486 selectively reduced stress-related memories, without changing other memories. They also found that the effectiveness of the treatment is a function of the intensity of the initial "trauma."
Although performed in rats, this study helps to set the stage for trials in humans.
This is how these findings should translate into developing clinical parameters:
The drug should be administered shortly before or after recalling the memory of the traumatic event. Only one or two treatments are sufficient to maximally disrupt the memory and the effect is long lasting and selective for the recalled memory.
The time elapsing between the traumatic experience and the treatment seems to be an important parameter for obtaining the most efficacious treatment.

Other scientists agree that the study results show that carefully designed combinations of behavioral and pharmacological therapies may represent novel, effective treatments for PTSD or other anxiety disorders.