Current Status on Behavioral and Biological Markers of PTSD: A Search for Clarity in a Conflicting Literature

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Amygdala, Autonomic nervous system, Biomarkers, Cognition, Dissociation, Glucocorticoids, Hippocampus, Prefrontal cortex, Sex, Startle, Stress, Sympathetic nervous system, Traumatic stress, Parasympathetic nervous system

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Extensive research has identified stereotypic behavioral and biological abnormalities in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as heightened autonomic activity, an exaggerated startle response, reduced basal cortisol levels and cognitive impairments. We have reviewed primary research in this area, noting that factors involved in the susceptibility and expression of PTSD symptoms are more complex and heterogeneous than is commonly stated, with extensive findings which are inconsistent with the stereotypic behavioral and biological profile of the PTSD patient. A thorough assessment of the literature indicates that interactions among myriad susceptibility factors, including social support, early life stress, sex, age, peri- and post-traumatic dissociation, cognitive appraisal of trauma, neuroendocrine abnormalities and gene polymorphisms, in conjunction with the inconsistent expression of the disorder across studies, confounds attempts to characterize PTSD as a monolithic disorder. Overall, our assessment of the literature addresses the great challenge in developing a behavioral and biomarker-based diagnosis of PTSD.

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Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, v. 37, issue 5, p. 860-895