Nav: Home

GW researcher receives $750,000 to study the link between PTSD and heart disease

September 16, 2015

WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2015) -- Clinical evidence suggests a link between stress and anxiety-related mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and increased development of cardiovascular disease. However, little is known about this relationship. Researchers at The George Washington University, Emory University, and Harvard University were awarded a $750,000 combined research project grant from the American Heart Association to explain the connection, potentially leading to new therapeutic advances in the treatment of PTSD and associated cardiovascular disease comorbidity.

The project, titled "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Role of Sympathetic Overactivity and Angiotensin II," will focus on the chronic overactivation and regulation of the sympathetic nervous system and increased inflammation that appears in those with PTSD and other anxiety-related disorders. Using both human and animal models, the team will address this study through basic science, clinical, and genomics research:
  • Paul Marvar, MS, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and physiology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, is the principal investigator on the award and will lead the research using animal models with PTSD, looking at the neural and molecular mechanisms and pathways of the sympathetic nervous system;

  • Jeanie Park, MS, M.D., assistant professor in the Renal Division of the Emory University School of Medicine, will lead the research on patients with PTSD, looking at sympathetic nervous system activity, reactivity, and regulation; and

  • Kerry Ressler, M.D., Ph.D., chief scientific officer and professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, will lead research on underlying genetic components that may link some of the team's findings and lead to better clues for explaining the link between PTSD and cardiovascular disease.

"When you bring together two, three, or more investigators from different disciplines and backgrounds, science is more exciting," said Marvar. "Collaborative work progresses more quickly, leading to potential therapies that would otherwise not be discovered if multidisciplinary investigators had not come together."

Marvar and his team at GW, who will build on previous work looking at the link between PTSD and cardiovascular disease, will use the many resources for PTSD research at GW and in the Washington, D.C. area. His team will first look at the development of hypertension, which occurs through over activation of the sympathetic nervous system, in animal models. Preliminary data shows that individuals with PTSD, just at resting levels, have an overactive sympathetic nervous system. At Emory University, Park will record data on nerve activity, examine inflammatory mediators in patients' blood, and measure how the sympathetic nervous system is regulated during stress in these patients. Marvar will also record nerve activity in animal models, additionally testing drugs that target inflammatory pathways.

In addition to hypertension, those with PTSD often have increased levels of inflammation. The information gathered by Park and Marvar will help the team determine whether targeting inflammation has an effect on nerve activity and PTSD symptoms.

"With PTSD on the rise in the military and outside, it is crucial that we know why patients with PTSD are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease," said Park. "Looking at sympathetic nervous system activation and inflammation could inform new therapies for PTSD-associated cardiovascular disease."

Hypertension is associated with elevated sympathetic nerve activity -- a predictor of cardiovascular disease risk.

"Looking at genes may unmask other pathways for therapies and may link a particular phenotype of patient with PTSD and over activation of the sympathetic nervous system and inflammation," said Ressler.
Media: For more information or to interview Dr. Marvar, please contact Lisa Anderson at or 202-994-3121.

About the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences:

Founded in 1824, the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) was the first medical school in the nation's capital and is the 11th oldest in the country. Working together in our nation's capital, with integrity and resolve, the GW SMHS is committed to improving the health and well-being of our local, national and global communities.

George Washington University

Related Stress Articles:

Captive meerkats at risk of stress
Small groups of meerkats -- such as those commonly seen in zoos and safari parks -- are at greater risk of chronic stress, new research suggests.
Stress may protect -- at least in bacteria
Antibiotics harm bacteria and stress them. Trimethoprim, an antibiotic, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli and induces a stress response.
Some veggies each day keeps the stress blues away
Eating three to four servings of vegetables daily is associated with a lower incidence of psychological stress, new research by University of Sydney scholars reveals.
Prebiotics may help to cope with stress
Probiotics are well known to benefit digestive health, but prebiotics are less well understood.
Building stress-resistant memories
Though it's widely assumed that stress zaps a person's ability to recall memory, it doesn't have that effect when memory is tested immediately after a taxing event, and when subjects have engaged in a highly effective learning technique, a new study reports.
Stress during pregnancy
The environment the unborn child is exposed to inside the womb can have a major effect on her or his development and future health.
New insights into how the brain adapts to stress
New research led by the University of Bristol has found that genes in the brain that play a crucial role in behavioural adaptation to stressful challenges are controlled by epigenetic mechanisms.
Uncertainty can cause more stress than inevitable pain
Knowing that there is a small chance of getting a painful electric shock can lead to significantly more stress than knowing that you will definitely be shocked.
Stress could help activate brown fat
Mild stress stimulates the activity and heat production by brown fat associated with raised cortisol, according to a study published today in Experimental Physiology.
Experiencing major stress makes some older adults better able to handle daily stress
Dealing with a major stressful event appears to make some older adults better able to cope with the ups and downs of day-to-day stress.

Related Stress Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...