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Psychobiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Psychobiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Reported by
Mary Crowley

Posted July 29, 2009

Presented By

New York Academy of Sciences and Mount Sinai School of Medicine


Held September 11-13, 2005, this New York Academy of Sciences conference, held in partnership with Mount Sinai School of Medicine, offered an opportunity to consider the state of understanding about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was conceived as a follow-up meeting to a 1996 conference which set the stage for PTSD to emerge as its own diagnosis, and prompted a decade of new research.

The conference focused on five main topics: 1) what prospective, longitudinal biological studies have revealed about the etiology, pathophysiology, and treatment of PTSD; 2) new insights into cognitive and brain functioning in PTSD; 3) how the glucocorticoid pathway is involved in the systemic, cognitive, behavioral, and neurobiological effects of trauma; 4) hot topics with implications and applications for biologic studies; and 5) contributions of developmental and basic neuroscience to understanding PTSD.

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report and multimedia from this event.

Multimedia is available for the following speakers:

Rachel Yehuda (Mount Sinai School of Medicine)
Charles Marmar (University of California, San Francisco)
Glenn Saxe (Boston University)
Gustav Schelling (Ludwig-Maximilians University)
Lisa Shin (Tufts University) [presentation by Roger Pitman]
J. Douglas Bremner (Emory University)
Israel Liberzon (University of Michigan)
Margaret Altemus (Cornell University)
Thomas C. Neylan (University of California, San Francisco)
Naomi Breslau (Michigan State University)
Sandro Galea (New York Academy of Medicine)
Roger K. Pitman (Massachusetts General Hospital)

Web Sites

About Medications for Combat PTSD
Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay prepared this information page for soldiers and their caregivers concerning current medication options for PTSD.

American Psychatric Association
General information page on PTSD.

Disaster Mental Health Response Handbook
The NSW Institute for Psychiatry and the Centre for Mental Health collaborated to prepare this handbook for practitioners, which provides a review of the field and a guide to appropriate response planning. Full Text (PDF, 1.9 MB)

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
The ISTSS is an international membership organization founded to promote the advancement and exchange of information about severe stress and trauma. Their web site offers extensive resources and additional links concerning consumer information, traumatic stress resources, government resources, nonprofit organizations, trauma treatment, and university resources.

Internet Mental Health
Features links to publications providing general information about PTSD.

National Center for PTSD
A site created within the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989 in response to a Congressional mandate to address the needs of veterans with military-related PTSD. It has since expanded to include general PTSD information that applies to other populations. The site includes sections on special topics (including fact sheets, videos, etc.), quarterly research and clinical publications, information on assessment, and the PILOTS Database, the world's largest index to literature on PTSD. They also feature a special section focusing on PTSD and the war in Iraq.

National Institute of Mental Health
NIMH has developed this information site on PTSD for the general public. It provides background information on symptoms, treatment, and how to locate clinical services.

PTSD Among Poor Soldiers: Herold's Story
A July 7, 2005 report on NPR's Morning Edition on a soldier who served in Iraq and has PTSD. Includes audio and links to other NPR stories on PTSD.

Trauma, Culture, and the Brain Conference
This 2002 UCLA conference examined the cultural, clinical, and basic biological understandings of trauma-related disorders from a variety of perspectives—anthropology, history, neurobiology, and psychiatry. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani delivered a keynote address entitled "Leadership in Difficult Times."

Journal Articles

Agaibi C. E. & J. P. Wilson. 2005. Trauma, PTSD, and resilience: a review of the literature. Trauma Violence Abuse 6: 195-216.

Armony J. L., V. Corbo, M. H. Clement, et al. 2005. Amygdala response in patients with acute PTSD to masked and unmasked emotional facial expressions. Am. J. Psychiat. 162: 1961-1963.

Beall, L. S. 1997. Post-traumatic stress disorder: a bibliographic essay. Choice 34: 917-930. Full Text
Discusses over one hundred books, journals, and films for academic library collections.

Bremner, J. D. 2005. Effects of traumatic stress on brain structure and function: relevance to early responses to trauma. J. Trauma Dissociation 6: 51-68.

Bryant, R. A. 2005. Predicting posttraumatic stress disorder from acute reactions. J. Trauma Dissociation 6: 5-15.

De Bellis, M. D. & T. Van Dillen. 2005. Childhood post-traumatic stress disorder: an overview. Child Adol. Psych. Cl. 14: 745-772.

Engel, S. M., G. S. Berkowitz, M. S. Wolff, et al. 2005. Psychological trauma associated with the World Trade Center attacks and its effect on pregnancy outcome. Paediatr. Perinat. Ep. 19: 334-341.

Forbes, D., N. Bennett, D. Biddle, et al. 2005. Clinical presentations and treatment outcomes of peacekeeper veterans with PTSD: preliminary findings. Am. J. Psychiat. 162: 2188-2190.

Freedy, J. R., H. S. Resnick & D. G. Kilpatrick. Conceptual framework for evaluating disaster impact: implications for clinical intervention. In Responding to Disaster: A Guide forMental Health Professionals. L. S. Austin, Ed. American Psychiatric Press, Washington, DC.

Hull, A. M. 2002. Neuroimaging findings in post-traumatic stress disorder. Br. J. Psychiatry 181: 102-110. Full Text

Kessler, R. C., A. Sonnega, E. Bromet et al. 1995. Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 52: 1048-1060.

Lamberg, L. 2005. As tsunami recovery proceeds, experts ponder lessons for future disasters. JAMA 294: 889-890.

Murray, A. 2005. Recurrence of post traumatic stress disorder. Nurs. Older People 17: 24-30.

Saxe, G. N., F. Stoddard, E. Hall, et al. 2005. Pathways to PTSD, part I: children with burns. Am. J. Psychiat. 16: 1299-1304.

Shlosberg, A. & R. D. Strous. 2005. Long-term follow-up (32 Years) of PTSD in Israeli Yom Kippur War veterans. J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 193: 693-696.

Wolmer, L., N. Laor, C. Dedeoglu, et al. 2005. Teacher-mediated intervention after disaster: a controlled three-year follow-up of children's functioning. J. Child Psychol. Psyc. 46: 1161-1168.

Yehuda, R. 2002. Current concepts: posttraumatic stress disorder. N. Engl. J. Med. 346: 109-114. Full Text

Yehuda, R. 2003. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal alterations in PTSD: are they relevant to understanding cortisol alterations in cancer? Brain Behav. Immun. 17(1 Suppl.): 73-83.

Yehuda, R., R. Bryant, C. Marmar & J. Zohar. 2005. Pathological responses to terrorism. Neuropsychopharmacology [ePub ahead of print].
A paper reviewing clinical and biological studies that have led to an identification of pathologic responses following psychological trauma, including terrorism, and highlighting areas of future-research.

Yehuda, R., J. A. Golier, S. L. Halligan et al. 2004. The ACTH response to dexamethasone in PTSD. Am. J. Psychiatry 161: 1397-1403.

Yehuda, R., J. A. Golier, R. K. Yang & L. Tishler. 2004. Enhanced sensitivity to glucocorticoids in peripheral mononuclear leukocytes in posttraumatic stress disorder. Biol. Psychiatry 55: 1110-1116.

Yehuda, R. & S. E. Hyman. 2005. The impact of terrorism on brain, and behavior: what we know and what we need to know. Neuropsychopharmacol. 30: 1773-1780.

Yehuda, R., R. K. Yang, M. S. Buchsbaum, et al. 2005. Alterations in cortisol negative feedback inhibition as examined using the ACTH response to cortisol administration in PTSD. Psychoneuroendocrino. [Epub ahead of print]

Yehuda, R., R. K. Yang, J. A. Golier, et al. 2006. Effect of sertraline on glucocorticoid sensitivity of mononuclear leukocytes in post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuropsychopharmacol. 31: 189-196. (PDF, 134 KB) Full Text

Yehuda, R., R. K. Yang, S. L. Guo & Y. Makotkine. 2003. Relationship between dexamethasone-inhibited lysozyme activity in lymphocytes and the cortisol and glucocorticoid receptor response to dexamethasone. J. Psychiatr. Res. 37: 471-477.


Allen, J. 1995. Coping with Trauma: A Guide to Self-Understanding. American Psychiatric Press, Arlington, VA.
Jon Allen, a clinical psychologist at the Menninger Clinic, explains the effects of traumatic experience on the survivor's personality, physiological functioning, and social relationships.

Kulka, R. A., J. A. Fairbank, B. K. Jordan & D. Weiss. 1990. Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation: Report of Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. Brunner/Mazel, New York.

Myers, D. & D. F. Wee. 2003. Disaster Mental Health Services: A Primer for Practitioners. Brunner-Routledge, New York.

Shay, Jonathan. 1994. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. Atheneum, New York.
VA psychiatrist Jonathan Shay examines similarities between the experiences of the Vietnam veterans and soldiers portrayed by Homer in The Iliad.

Van Der Kolk, B. A., A. C. McFarlane & L. Weisaeth, Eds. 1996. Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. Guilford, New York.
A comprehensive synthesis of research and clinical knowledge on traumatic stress and its treatment.

Wilson, J. P. & B. Raphael, Eds. 1993. The International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes. Plenum Press, New York.


Rachel Yehuda, PhD

Bronx VA Medical Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
e-mail | web site | publications

Rachel Yehuda is the director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and professor of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She is an active researcher in the field of stress and posttraumatic stress (PTSD) and has authored more than 225 published papers, chapters, and books on topics such as risk factors for PTSD and biologic studies.

Yehuda is a member of numerous professional organizations, such as the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinolgy, and International Society for Traumatic Stress, and has served on many scientific advisory and journal editorial boards. She served as a delegate for the White House Conference on Mental Health in 1999 and was recognized in the Congressional Record for her work with Holocaust survivors. She is one of four executive directors on the New York Times Consortium for Trauma Treatment, founded in response to the World Trade Center disaster in New York.

Yehuda's research on cortisol and brain function has revolutionized the understanding and treatment of PTSD worldwide and was awarded the renowned Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry (Munich, Germany) 2004 Guest Professorship. The appointment signifies a special recognition of the research she has been performing in the field of neuroscience in the context of studies on causality of psychiatric disorders over the years.

Yehuda received her PhD in psychology and neurochemistry and her MS in biological psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and completed her postdoctoral training in biological psychiatry in the psychiatry department at Yale Medical School.


Margaret Altemus, MD

Cornell University Weill Medical College
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

J. Douglas Bremner, MD

Emory University
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

Naomi Breslau, PhD

Michigan State University
Department of Epidemiology
e-mail | web site | publications

Richard A. Bryant, PhD

University of New South Wales
School of Psychology
e-mail | publications

Dennis S. Charney, MD

Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

Douglas L. Delahanty, PhD

Kent State University
Department of Psychology
e-mail | web site | publications

Sandro Galea, MD, PhD

New York Academy of Medicine
Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies
e-mail | web site | publications

Julia Golier, MD

Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | publications

Jack Gorman, MD

Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | publications

Karestan C. Koenen, PhD

Harvard School of Public Health
Department of Society, Human Development, and Health
e-mail | web site | publications

Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD

Boston University School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD

The University of Western Ontario
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | publications

Israel Liberzon, MD

University of Michigan
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

Charles Marmar, MD

University of California, San Francisco
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

Bruce McEwen, PhD

The Rockefeller University
Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology
e-mail | web site | publications

Richard J. McNally, PhD

Harvard University
Department of Psychology
e-mail | publications

Michael Meaney, PhD

McGill University
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

Thomas C. Neylan, MD

University of California, San Francisco
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | web site | publications

Dominique J.-F de Quervain, MD

University of Zurich
Division of Psychiatry Research
e-mail | web site | publications

Roger K. Pitman, MD

Massachusetts General Hospital
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | publications

Glenn Saxe, MD

Boston University and Boston Medical Center
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
e-mail | publications

Gustav Schelling, MD, PhD

Ludwig-Maximilians University
Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care
e-mail | publications

Paula Schnurr, PhD

Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, VT
National Center of PTSD
e-mail | publications

Jonathan Seckl, FRCPE, FMedSci, FRSE

University of Edinburgh
Centre for Cardiovascular Science, Endocrinology Unit
e-mail | web site | publications

Lisa Shin, PhD

Tufts University
Department of Psychology
e-mail | web site | publications

Martin Teicher, MD, PhD

Harvard Medical School
Department of Psychiatry
e-mail | publications

Farris Tuma, ScD

National Institute of Mental Health
Traumatic Stress Disorders Research Program
e-mail | publications

Eric Vermetten, MD, PhD

Central Military Hospital and University Medical Center
Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Division
e-mail | publications

Carsten T. Wotjak, PhD

Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry
Department of Neuronal Plasticity and Mouse Behavior
e-mail | publications

Mary Crowley

Mary Crowley produces a weekly news service for Cover the Uninsured, a national campaign sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Formerly, she was the editorial director of Praxis Press, where she co-created Praxis Post, a webzine of medicine and culture. She also developed the Praxis Press News Bureau and was founding editor of Johns Hopkins Health after 50, a widely circulated monthly consumer-health newsletter.