SGK1 identified as potential target to reverse effects of PTSD

Posted: 28 October 2015 | Victoria White

Experimentally reducing SGK1 activity in rats induced learned helplessness ( a behaviour thought to mimic one aspect of PTSD), while overexpressing the protein reduced it…

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have reduced activity of the protein serum and glucocorticoid regulated kinase 1 (SGK1) in their prefrontal cortices.

In a new study by Pawel Licznerski, Ronald Duman and colleagues of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University, experimentally reducing the protein’s activity in rats led to PTSD-like behaviour. The research suggests that augmenting activity of SGK1 may be therapeutic in PTSD.

Reducing SGK1 activity induced learned helplessness in rats

Performing a whole-genome expression screen on the post-mortem brains of six subjects with PTSD, the researchers found that expression of SGK1 was reduced in the prefrontal cortex by over 80% compared to controls. The subjects studied were part of a PTSD brain bank, the first of its kind, established by the researchers. To understand the cellular mechanisms at work, the authors turned to rats, and showed that those rats with lower SGK1 activity had higher levels of learned helplessness in response to a shock (a behaviour thought to mimic one aspect of PTSD). Experimentally reducing SGK1 activity in rats induced learned helplessness, while overexpressing the protein reduced it. Reducing SGK1 activity also induced several other PTSD-like behaviours, and caused cellular changes in prefrontal cortical neurons consistent with an augmented fear response.

Together, these results indicate that a reduction in SGK1 activity likely contributes to PTSD. Larger post-mortem studies will be needed to confirm these findings, but if they are borne out, SGK1 or other proteins with which it is linked may provide new targets for medications to reverse the effects of PTSD.

Related organisations