A feature on Time.com shared the results of a study conducted by a group of scientists led by Dr. Kerry Ressler of Emory University. The study sought to understand the differences in the ability of people to recover from the trauma associated with violent attack, or violence witnessed in combat zones; those who are unable to recover from these experiences suffer from flashbacks, depression, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Ressler and his team conducted a study of 64 traumatized civilian patients at the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. The focus of their research was a hormone-like molecule called pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide, or PACAP. The molecule is known to have an effect on the response to stress at the cellular level.
The scientists determined that PACAP was present at higher levels among patients who suffered from PTSD, when compared against those who did not. In addition, they were also able to determine that as blood levels of PACAP increase, so does the severity of PTSD symptoms.
After the scientists split the data by gender, however, they observed that the link between PACAP and PTSD was only significant among women. This prompted the design of a follow-up study at the same hospital, this time consisting only of traumatized female patients. ABC News reported: â€œAgain, PACAP levels correlated with PTSD symptoms â€” especially those considered essential for a diagnosis of PTSD: intrusive flashbacks, avoidance of trauma reminders and increased startle response.â€
Dr. Ressler and his colleagues wrote the following: â€œThese data may begin to explain sex-specific differences in PTSD diagnosis, symptoms and fear physiology.â€