Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that affects some individuals who have witnessed or experienced a life-threatening or traumatic event. An enhanced or exaggerated acoustic startle response (ASR), reflecting heightened sensitivity to unexpected, loud sound, is a hallmark symptom of PTSD. Antidepressant medications, such as sertraline, are first-line pharmacotherapeutic agents in the treatment of PTSD, but concerns about potential side effects or taking synthetic drugs prompt discovery of naturalistic therapeutic agents. This study examined the relative effectiveness of a compound containing St. John's Wort (SJW), an herb widely prescribed for depression in Europe and sold as a dietary supplement in the United States, compared to sertraline (Zoloft) in a mouse model of PTSD. Thirty-six mice were tested for baseline ASR, then they were exposed to rats in a predator exposure paradigm known to induce PTSD-like symptoms. Mice were randomly divided into three groups for treatment (control, sertraline, SJW), and ASR was retested one week later. One-way ANOVAs found no significant group differences in ASR amplitude at baseline but a significant effect of Treatment Group after predator exposure, F(2, 33) = 5.645, p = .008, n2 = .225, when SJW-treated mice had ASR amplitudes that were significantly lower than sertraline-treated mice (by 27%) and controls (by 26%). Fecal boli counts showed a similar pattern, with lowest counts in SJW-treated mice. These results suggest SJW could be considered for studies of PTSD treatment in humans as well.
Keywords: St. John’s wort; acoustic startle response; anxiety; posttraumatic stress disorder; predator exposure; sertraline.