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Veteran Wellness Study

Image by ChrisSuperseal via iStockPhoto

Hundreds of thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience the negative impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which plays a role in the alarming increases in suicidal behavior among combat veterans.

Despite advances in exposure-based therapy and drug-based approaches, these treatments are ineffective for as many as half of people living with PTSD. In addition, these conventional approaches are poorly tolerated by many individuals, leading to undesirable side effects and high rates of dropout. Center researchers are exploring how to improve the lives of veterans by expanding the range of treatments available for PTSD and understanding the brain mechanisms of PTSD and its treatment.

In one pilot study, veterans who participated in complementary and alternative programs involving breathing exercises and yoga reported improved sleep, a reduction in chronic pain and an increased sense of optimism, among other benefits. In addition to evaluating the efficacy of each treatment using standard symptom measures and brain imaging, we are also identifying the biological and symptom profiles that can potentially shed light on why some treatments work for some but not for others. These profiles can be used to guide treatment decisions on an individual basis, akin to personalized medicine approaches for cancer. As such, this line of research extends beyond the development of new treatment approaches for PTSD by using state-of-the-art brain imaging methods to also shed light on the biological mechanisms through which these treatments act.

In an initial publication resulting from this study, we found that distinct symptom profiles are associated with altered brain activation patterns in different aspects of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a brain region previously implicated in PTSD. We have also identified a novel association between elevated perceived threat during deployment and reduced hippocampal volume post-deployment.

We are not recruiting for this study.

People Working on This Study

Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Dan Grupe
Research Assistant Professor, Center for Healthy Minds
Joseph Wielgosz
Former Graduate Student, Center for Healthy Minds

Related Publications

Grupe, D. W., & Heller, A. S. (2016). Brain imaging alterations in PTSD. Psychiatric Annals, 46(9), 519-526. doi:10.3928/00485713-20160803-01 PMCID: Policy Exempt -- not funded by NIH grants
Grupe, D., Wielgosz, J., Davidson, R. J., & Nitschke, J. (2016). Neurobiological correlates of distinct PTSD symptom profiles during threat anticipation in combat veterans. Psychological Medicine, 46(9), 1885-95. doi:10.1017/S0033291716000374 PMCID: PMC4900910
Grupe, D. W., Imhoff-Smith, T., Wielgosz, J., Nitschke, J. B., & Davidson R. J. (2020). A common neural substrate for elevated PTSD symptoms and reduced pulse rate variability in combat-exposed veterans. Psychophysiology, 57(1). doi:10.1111/psyp.13352 PMCID: PMC6891136
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