Traumatic stress causes posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is associated with cardiovascular diseases and risk of sudden cardiac death in some subjects. We compared effects of predator stress (PS, cat urine scent, 10 days) on mechanisms of cardiac injury and protection in experimental PTSD-vulnerable (PTSD) and -resistant (PTSDr) rats. Fourteen days post-stress, rats were evaluated with an elevated plus-maze test, and assigned to PTSD and PTSDr groups according to an anxiety index calculated from the test results. Cardiac injury was evaluated by: 1) exercise tolerance; 2) ECG; 3) myocardial histomorphology; 4) oxidative stress; 5) pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Myocardial heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) was also measured. Experimental PTSD developed in 40% of rats exposed to PS. Exercise tolerance of PTSD rats was 25% less than control rats and 21% less than PTSDr rats. ECG QRS, QT, and OTc intervals were significantly longer in PTSD rats than in control and PTSDr rats. Only cardiomyocytes of PTSD rats had histomorphological signs of metabolic and hypoxic injury and impaired contractility. Oxidative stress markers were higher in PTSD than in PTSDr rats. Pro-inflammatory IL-6 was higher in PTSD rats than in control and PTSDr rats, and anti-inflammatory IL-4 was lower in PTSD than in control and PTSDr rats. Myocardial HSP70 was lower in PTSD rats than in PTSDr and control rats. Our conclusion was that rats with PTSD developed multiple signs of cardiac injury. PTSDr rats were resistant also to cardiac injury. Factors that limit cardiac damage in PS rats include reduced inflammation and oxidative stress and increased protective HSP70.NEW & NOTEWORTHY For the first time, rats exposed to stress were segregated into experimental PTSD (ePTSD)-susceptible and ePTSD-resistant rats. Cardiac injury, ECG changes, and impaired exercise tolerance were more pronounced in ePTSD-susceptible rats. Resistance to ePTSD was associated with decreased inflammation and oxidative stress and with increased protective heat shock protein 70. Results may help identify individuals at high risk of PTSD and also provide a foundation for developing preventive and therapeutic means to restrict PTSD-associated cardiac morbidity.
Keywords: heart injury; inflammation; oxidative stress; posttraumatic stress disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder resistance.