The glucocorticoid receptor-FKBP51 complex contributes to fear conditioning and posttraumatic stress disorder

J Clin Invest. 2020 Feb 3;130(2):877-889. doi: 10.1172/JCI130363.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after exposure to severe psychological trauma, leaving patients with disabling anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks. Current treatments are only partially effective, and development of better treatments is hampered by limited knowledge of molecular mechanisms underlying PTSD. We have discovered that the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and FK506 binding protein 51 (FKBP51) form a protein complex that is elevated in PTSD patients compared with unaffected control subjects, subjects exposed to trauma without PTSD, and patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). The GR-FKBP51 complex is also elevated in fear-conditioned mice, an aversive learning paradigm that models some aspects of PTSD. Both PTSD patients and fear-conditioned mice had decreased GR phosphorylation, decreased nuclear GR, and lower expression of 14-3-3ε, a gene regulated by GR. We created a peptide that disrupts GR-FKBP51 binding and reverses behavioral and molecular changes induced by fear conditioning. This peptide reduces freezing time and increases GR phosphorylation, GR-FKBP52 binding, GR nuclear translocation, and 14-3-3ε expression in fear-conditioned mice. These experiments demonstrate a molecular mechanism contributing to PTSD and suggest that the GR-FKBP51 complex may be a diagnostic biomarker and a potential therapeutic target for preventing or treating PTSD.

Keywords: Neuroscience; Psychiatric diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 14-3-3 Proteins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Fear*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / metabolism*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / pathology
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • 14-3-3 Proteins
  • Biomarkers
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins
  • tacrolimus binding protein 5