The proposed career development plan is designed for the candidate to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to develop a high quality, independent research program in the areas of olfaction and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).The candidate proposes career development activites such as graduate coursework, didactics, and applied experience that is focused on the central olfactory system, anxiety and PTSD, functional neuroimaging (fMRI), psychophysiology, statistics, and ethical conduct in research. Although odors have been described as more closely linked to memory, and emotional memories specifically, than stimuli from any other sensory modality, and odors are commonly associated with traumatic events, the role of the central olfactory system (e.g. olfactory triggers) has yet to be systematically studied in PTSD. The proposed research plan, designed to address the gap in our understanding of the brain mechanisms involved in PTSD, includes (a) to assess odor threshold, odor identification, and odor memory in combat veterans with and without PTSD, (b) to assess the behavioral and physiological profiles of odor-induced anxiety and odor-related trauma in combat veterans with and without PTSD, and (c) to utilize a validated olfactory fMRI protocol to compare neural activation in the central olfactory and fear pathways after exposure to trauma-related and control odors in combat veterans with and without PTSD. The information acquired from the planned olfactory experiments could have implications for personalized medicine, potentially identifying PTSD patients that require the use of odors to achieve a complete therapeutic response to behavioral exposure therapy.

Public Health Relevance

With more than half of all Americans at risk for experiencing a traumatic event in their lifetime and lifetime rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as high as 31% in some groups (e.g., Military Veterans), PTSD is a significant individual and societal health concern in the United States. Although olfactory cues are associated with a wide variety of traumatic experiences and can be a precipitating factor in PTSD symptomatology, the olfactory system and olfactory cues largely have been ignored in PTSD. The proposed investigation will advance knowledge about the smell abilities, as well as the psychophysiology and fMRI-measured neural activation of odor-cued anxiety in PTSD. This research could have implications for personalized medicine, potentially identifying PTSD patients that require the use of odors to achieve a complete therapeutic response to behavioral exposure therapy.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
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Neural Basis of Psychopathology, Addictions and Sleep Disorders Study Section (NPAS)
Program Officer
Chavez, Mark
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Medical University of South Carolina
Schools of Medicine
United States
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