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August 1997

Noradrenergic and Serotonergic Function in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Author Affiliations

From the Clinical Neurosciences Division, National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, West Haven, Conn (Drs Southwick, Krystal, Bremner, Morgan, Nicolaou, Nagy, Johnson, Heninger, and Charney); and the Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn (Drs Southwick, Krystal, Bremner, Morgan, Nagy, Johnson, Heninger, and Charney).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1997;54(8):749-758. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1997.01830200083012

Background:  Yohimbine hydrochloride produces marked behavioral and cardiovascular effects in combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the present study, yohimbine was used as a probe of noradrenergic activity, and meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (m-CPP) as a probe of serotonergic activity. To our knowledge, this is the first study to describe the behavioral and cardiovascular effects of meta-CPP in patients with PTSD, and to compare these effects with those of yohimbine.

Method:  Twenty-six patients with PTSD and 14 healthy subjects each received an intravenous infusion of yohimbine hydrochloride (0.4 mg/kg), m-CPP (1.0 mg/kg), or saline solution on 3 separate test days in a randomized balanced order and in double-blind fashion. Behavioral and cardiovascular measurements were determined at multiple times.

Results:  Eleven (42%) of the patients with PTSD experienced yohimbine-induced panic attacks and had significantly greater increases compared with controls in anxiety, panic, and PTSD symptoms, but not in cardiovascular measurements. Eight patients (31%) with PTSD experienced m-CPP-induced panic attacks and had significantly greater increases compared with controls in anxiety, panic, and PTSD symptoms, and in standing diastolic blood pressure. Yohimbine-induced panic attacks tended to occur in different patients from m-CPPinduced panic attacks.

Conclusion:  These data suggest the presence of 2 neurobiological subgroups of patients with PTSD, one with a sensitized noradrenergic system, and the other with a sensitized serotonergic system.