Dysfunctions of cortical excitability in drug-naïve posttraumatic stress disorder patients.

Department of Neuroscience, Neurology Section, University of Siena School of Medicine, Siena, Italy.
Biological psychiatry (Impact Factor: 8.93). 05/2009; 66(1):54-61. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.03.008
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The investigation of a wide set of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)-related variables in both hemispheres might help to identify a pattern of cortical excitability changes in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients, reflecting gamma-amino-butiric acid (GABA)/glutamate balance and dysfunction, and to determine whether some of these variables are related to clinical features.
In 20 drug-naive PTSD patients without comorbidity and 16 matched healthy control subjects we tested bilaterally with standard TMS procedures: resting motor threshold (RMT) to single-pulse TMS (reflecting ion channel function), paired-pulse short-latency intracortical inhibition (SICI; mainly reflecting GABA(A) function) and intracortical facilitation (ICF; mainly reflecting glutamatergic function), single-pulse cortical silent period (CSP; mainly reflecting GABA(B)-ergic function), and paired-pulse short-latency afferent inhibition (SAI; reflecting cholinergic mechanisms and their presynaptic GABA(A)-mediated modulation).
The PTSD patients showed widespread impairment of GABA(A)-ergic SICI, which was reversed toward facilitation in both hemispheres in one-half of the patients, marked increase of glutamatergic ICF in the right hemisphere, and right-sided impairment of SAI. Illness duration and avoidance symptoms but not anxiety correlated with right-lateralized dysfunctions of cortical excitability.
Although the neurobiological complexity of each TMS variable makes current results theoretical, the pattern of cortical excitability accompanying PTSD symptoms suggests a bilateral decrease of the GABA(A)-ergic function. This prevails in the right hemisphere, in association with a relative prevalence of the glutamatergic tone, a new finding that current neuroimaging investigations cannot provide due to the lack of reliable glutamate tracers. Results might help to disclose new pathophysiological aspects of PTSD symptoms, providing a rationale for future neuromodulatory strategies of treatment.

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