New York Academy eBriefing: Psychobiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, A Decade of Progress – A three-day conference on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), jointly sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City began, appropriately enough, on the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and only days after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf States. Because PTSD was first recognized as an abnormal psychological response whose incidence surges in response to wars, violence, and natural disasters, it was an apt day for reflection.
Recent research into PTSD has led to a better understanding of risk factors, its phenotype and genetics, and long-term impact. The conference also offered an opportunity to consider how our understanding has grown since a 1996 meeting in New York set the stage for PTSD to emerge as its own diagnosis, and prompted a decade of new research. As Rachel Yehuda, coordinator of both conferences, said, "The 1996 meeting was an historical event that allowed a biological look at a condition then nicknamed 'compensation neurosis.'" The 2005 meeting built on that foundation.
In the intervening decade, longitudinal and epidemiologic research into the disorder has led to a better understanding of the risk factors for PTSD, its phenotype and even genetics, and its long-term impact. The decade also brought technological advances such as functional MRI, which enabled researchers to map out the impact of PTSD on the brain and so suggest targets for treatment. Moreover, studies have shown that it can arise even in the absence of large-scale disasters.