Brain stimulation in posttraumatic stress disorder

Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2011:2. doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v2i0.5609. Epub 2011 Oct 17.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex, heterogeneous disorder that develops following trauma and often includes perceptual, cognitive, affective, physiological, and psychological features. PTSD is characterized by hyperarousal, intrusive thoughts, exaggerated startle response, flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbances, emotional numbness, and persistent avoidance of trauma-associated stimuli. The efficacy of available treatments for PTSD may result in part from relief of associated depressive and anxiety-related symptoms in addition to treatment of core symptoms that derive from reexperiencing, numbing, and hyperarousal. Diverse, heterogeneous mechanisms of action and the ability to act broadly or very locally may enable brain stimulation devices to address PTSD core symptoms in more targeted ways. To achieve this goal, specific theoretical bases derived from novel, well-designed research protocols will be necessary. Brain stimulation devices include both long-used and new electrical and magnetic devices. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) have both been in use for decades; transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), magnetic seizure therapy (MST), deep brain stimulation (DBS), transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) have been developed recently, over approximately the past twenty years. The efficacy of brain stimulation has been demonstrated as a treatment for psychiatric and neurological disorders such as anxiety (CES), depression (ECT, CES, rTMS, VNS, DBS), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (DBS), essential tremor, dystonia (DBS), epilepsy (DBS, VNS), Parkinson Disease (DBS), pain (CES), and insomnia (CES). To date, limited data on brain stimulation for PTSD offer only modest guidance. ECT has shown some efficacy in reducing comorbid depression in PTSD patients but has not been demonstrated to improve most core PTSD symptoms. CES and VNS have shown some efficacy in reducing anxiety, findings that may suggest possible utility in relieving PTSD-associated anxiety. Treatment of animal models of PTSD with DBS suggests potential human benefit. Additional research and novel treatment options for PTSD are urgently needed. The potential usefulness of brain stimulation in treating PTSD deserves further exploration.

Keywords: Brain stimulation; ECT; PTSD; TMS; anxiety; depression.