Introduction: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a frequent and disabling condition that occurs after exposure to a traumatic event, and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered the first-line treatment approach for this disorder. However, a large proportion of patients remain symptomatic and other pharmacological agents have been investigated, based on the understanding of the underlying biological dysfunctions of PTSD.
Methods: We conducted a review of the literature on the pharmacological options for PTSD other than the antidepressants, using MedLine and Web of Science databases, with search terms including the pharmacologic class of each agent plus PTSD, or pharmacotherapy, or fear conditioning. The literature review covered articles published until august 2012, including reviews and original articles.
Results: Agents like antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, anti-adrenergic agents, have been studied in randomized clinical trials (RCTs), with general positive results for antipsychotics, especially as adjunct therapy, and for prazosin for sleep-related disturbances. However, one important target for novel medications is the modulation of the fear conditioning process, through the alteration of retrieval/reconsolidation or enhancement of fear extinction. This is traditionally targeted in prolonged exposure therapy, but pre-clinical findings from studies investigating agents like propanolol, clonidine, N-Methyl-D-aspartic Acid Receptor (NMDAR) compounds, 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) and cannabinoids, indicate promising results in affecting the fear conditioning process and thus improving PTSD core symptoms.
Discussion: Antipsychotics can be considered a reasonable alternative option to PTSD, with the largest body of evidence for risperidone, even though larger RCTs are warranted. Prazosin is also a promising agent, especially for sleep-related disturbances, while anticonvulsants and benzodiazepines lack empirical support. However, the most promising area for pharmacotherapy in PTSD is the modulation of the fear conditioning process, through agents used in adjunct to exposure therapy.
Keywords: Adrenoreceptor antagonists; PTSD; anticonvulsants; antipsychotics; benzodiazepines; fear conditioning; pharmacotherapy.
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