Identification of biomarkers representing the evolution of the pathophysiology of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is vitally important, not only for objective diagnosis but also for the evaluation of therapeutic efficacy and resilience to trauma. Ongoing research is directed at identifying molecular biomarkers for PTSD, including traumatic stress induced proteins, transcriptomes, genomic variances and genetic modulators, using biologic samples from subjects' blood, saliva, urine, and postmortem brain tissues. However, the correlation of these biomarker molecules in peripheral or postmortem samples to altered brain functions associated with psychiatric symptoms in PTSD remains unresolved. Here, we present an animal model of PTSD in which both peripheral blood and central brain biomarkers, as well as behavioral phenotype, can be collected and measured, thus providing the needed correlation of the central biomarkers of PTSD, which are mechanistic and pathognomonic but cannot be collected from people, with the peripheral biomarkers and behavioral phenotypes, which can.
Our animal model of PTSD employs restraint and tail shocks repeated for three continuous days - the inescapable tail-shock model (ITS) in rats. This ITS model mimics the pathophysiology of PTSD 17, 7, 4, 10. We and others have verified that the ITS model induces behavioral and neurobiological alterations similar to those found in PTSD subjects 17, 7, 10, 9. Specifically, these stressed rats exhibit (1) a delayed and exaggerated startle response appearing several days after stressor cessation, which given the compressed time scale of the rat's life compared to a humans, corresponds to the one to three months delay of symptoms in PTSD patients (DSM-IV-TR PTSD Criterian D/E 13), (2) enhanced plasma corticosterone (CORT) for several days, indicating compromise of the hypothalamopituitary axis (HPA), and (3) retarded body weight gain after stressor cessation, indicating dysfunction of metabolic regulation.
The experimental paradigms employed for this model are: (1) a learned helplessness paradigm in the rat assayed by measurement of acoustic startle response (ASR) and a charting of body mass; (2) microdissection of the rat brain into regions and nuclei; (3) enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for blood levels of CORT; (4) a gene expression microarray plus related bioinformatics tools 18. This microarray, dubbed rMNChip, focuses on mitochondrial and mitochondria-related nuclear genes in the rat so as to specifically address the neuronal bioenergetics hypothesized to be involved in PTSD.