PTSD is a major health problem for military and civilian populations and treatment has proven to be less than effective. There are many people exposed to trauma who suffer flashbacks, bad dreams, numbing, fear, anxiety, sleeplessness, hyper-vigilance, hyperarousal, and an inability to cope. Current behavioral and drug treatment strategies are based on fear conditioning and are capable of treating only some of the symptoms of PTSD because the extinction of fear does not deal with the various forms of hyperarousal experienced by people with PTSD. The inability to treat more of the symptoms of PTSD is a major problem for the field. To help address this problem, researchers have developed animal models of PTSD but many of these models suffer from several limitations. First, they focus on extinguishing the fear associated with trauma without assessing or treating the hyperarousal caused by trauma. Second, they rely on group data, and it is clear that not everyone exposed to trauma develops PTSD. We have developed an animal model of PTSD in which conditioning and hyperarousal can be extinguished. The model is based on observations that the nictitating membrane response becomes exaggerated as a function of pairing a tone and shock. This exaggerated response occurs when the shock is tested by itself (without the tone) and is a form of hyperarousal termed conditioning-specific reflex modification (CRM). CRM is detected by comparing responses to a range of US intensities by themselves before and after classical conditioning. We now have strong evidence we can treat CRM as well as extinguish CRs which uniquely positions us to address two core features of PTSD and examine the relationship between them. Importantly, high levels of CRM only occur in 15-25 percent of rabbits exposed to tone-shock pairings - levels consistent with the incidence of PTSD. The current renewal will use our model of PTSD to test three specific aims that will move between the bench and the bedside to: (1) Determine the characteristics of CRM treatment that predict PTSD symptom treatment by uncovering better ways to extinguish CRM; (2) Understand the mechanisms underlying CRM treatment by inactivating areas key to executing responses and using drugs that treat PTSD to better understand CRM; and (3) Locate and characterize neural substrates of CRM treatment to develop targets for PTSD symptom treatment.
These aims are designed to meet our goal of providing clinical approaches to treating PTSD.

Public Health Relevance

We have developed and characterized a novel animal model of PTSD that incorporates PTSD-like hyperarousal resulting from classical conditioning, provides insights into a significant clinical problem and generates behavioral and pharmacological treatment strategies. The model captures more key features of PTSD including level of incidence than other animal models while still using standard behavioral paradigms. These features include exaggerated behavioral and physiological responding to cues and stressors, indices of susceptibility and resilience, exacerbation over time, generalization among stressful stimuli and an ability to generate behavioral and pharmacological treatments.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
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Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology Study Section (BRLE)
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Vicentic, Aleksandra
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West Virginia University
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Burhans, Lauren B; Smith-Bell, Carrie A; Schreurs, Bernard G (2018) Propranolol produces short-term facilitation of extinction in a rabbit model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuropharmacology 135:386-398
Schreurs, Bernard G; Smith-Bell, Carrie; Burhans, Lauren B (2018) Sex differences in a rabbit eyeblink conditioning model of PTSD. Neurobiol Learn Mem :
Schreurs, Bernard G; Smith-Bell, Carrie A; Burhans, Lauren B (2018) Delayed unpaired extinction as a treatment for hyperarousal of the rabbit nictitating membrane response and its implications for treating PTSD. J Psychiatr Res 99:1-9
Burhans, Lauren B; Smith-Bell, Carrie A; Schreurs, Bernard G (2017) Effects of systemic glutamatergic manipulations on conditioned eyeblink responses and hyperarousal in a rabbit model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Behav Pharmacol 28:565-577
Burhans, Lauren B; Smith-Bell, Carrie A; Schreurs, Bernard G (2015) Effects of extinction treatments on the reduction of conditioned responding and conditioned hyperarousal in a rabbit model of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Behav Neurosci 129:611-20
Schreurs, Bernard G; Burhans, Lauren B (2015) Eyeblink classical conditioning and post-traumatic stress disorder - a model systems approach. Front Psychiatry 6:50
Burhans, Lauren B; Schreurs, Bernard G (2013) Inactivation of the central nucleus of the amygdala blocks classical conditioning but not conditioning-specific reflex modification of rabbit heart rate. Neurobiol Learn Mem 100:88-97
Burhans, Lauren B; Smith-Bell, Carrie A; Schreurs, Bernard G (2013) Subacute fluoxetine enhances conditioned responding and conditioning-specific reflex modification of the rabbit nictitating membrane response: implications for drug treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Behav Pharmacol 24:55-64
Smith-Bell, Carrie A; Burhans, Lauren B; Schreurs, Bernard G (2012) Predictors of susceptibility and resilience in an animal model of posttraumatic stress disorder. Behav Neurosci 126:749-61
Schreurs, Bernard G; Smith-Bell, Carrie A; Burhans, Lauren B (2011) Incubation of conditioning-specific reflex modification: implications for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. J Psychiatr Res 45:1535-41

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