Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by acute and chronic changes in the stress response, which include alterations in glucocorticoid secretion and critically involve the limbic system, in particular the amygdala. Important symptoms of PTSD manifest as a classical conditioning to fear, which recurs each time trauma-related cues remind the subject of the original insult. Traumatic memories based on fear conditioning can be disrupted if interfering events or pharmacological interventions are applied following their retrieval.
Methods and results: Using an animal model, here we show that a traumatic memory is persistently disrupted if immediately after its retrieval glucocorticoid receptors are inactivated in the amygdala. The disruption of the memory is long lasting and memory retention does not re-emerge following strong reminders of the conditioned fear.
Conclusions: We propose that a combinatorial approach of psychological and pharmacological intervention targeting the glucocorticoid system following memory retrieval may represent a novel direction for the treatment of PTSD.