Even “Forgotten” Trauma May Trigger PTSD Symptoms in Adults
August 29, 2014
Michael S. Fanselow, Ph.D.
It is well-known that the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are precipitated by traumatic events or highly stressful experiences, including events that happened early in life…it may not be necessary for one to explicitly remember a stressful or traumatic event for it to cause PTSD…. an adult suffering PTSD symptoms may have no recollection of any childhood trauma whatsoever if the trauma occurred during a period early in life before the brain is wired to recall memories.
The new finding does not pertain to the often debilitating PTSD symptom of flashbacks brought on by cues in the environment linked to an original trauma. To have a flashback, one has to have a memory of the event, which often includes such details as odors, sounds, time of day and place… irregularities in the adult rats that had experienced early-life stress. The daily rhythms of the stress hormone corticosterone in their systems was altered––they had more “docking ports,” or cellular receptors, for this hormone in neurons of the amygdala, a known fear center…
“These data highlight the importance of the many ways in which the brain processes traumatic experiences,…Psychotherapy tends to focus heavily on the articulation of trauma memories. However, the current study highlights that these explicit memories may not represent all brain processes that drive distress and disability. In other words, there may be a mismatch between what people think and how they feel about their traumatic experiences. Thus, there may be a role in treatment for measuring other dimensions of response, such as physiologic arousal, through which some of these other forms of learning are expressed.”