Wayne State University

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation awards $70k to Wayne State professor to study PTSD

DETROIT – A Wayne State University professor was awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, an organization that distributes funds for research in psychiatric, brain and behavior disorders.

The NARSAD Young Investigator Awards are intended to help a new generation of researchers pioneer breakthroughs in mental health research. Each researcher receives funding over two years to extend their research fellowship training or begin careers as independent research faculty.

Christine A. Rabinak, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice and pharmaceutical sciences in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, was awarded a two-year, $70,000 grant for the project, “Effects of FAAH Genotype on Fear-Related Brain Activation During Fear Extinction.”

According to Rabinak, exposure to traumatic events is common in nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population. However, the risk of developing trauma-related neuropsychiatric conditions varies among individuals.

Rabinak reported that one such condition, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may be impacted by the endogenous cannabinoid (eCB) system, an important modulator of anxiety in the brain. The eCB may contribute to individual differences in anxious temperament and be a risk factor for anxiety disorders and PTSD.

Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) is an enzyme that regulates eCB levels within fear-related regions of the brain. Differential expression of FAAH is associated with genetic variability in the gene, which reduces FAAH levels, leading to elevated eCB levels.

“FAAH genetic variability has been associated with less threat-related brain activity and greater reductions of behavioral fear responses during fear extinction learning,” said Rabinak. “This suggests that FAAH genetic variability could contribute to the whether someone develops PTSD or not following a traumatic experience via effects on brain eCB levels.”

Rabinak’s research will look further into whether changes in fear extinction associated with FAAH genetic variability relate to changes in underlying fear-related neural function during extinction learning, and whether FAAH genetic variability alters recall of extinction learning.

“We will look for explanations for these behavioral effects to see if FAAH genotype differences are evident within behavioral and neural levels during recall of extinction learning,” said Rabinak. “Ultimately, we will see if individual variability in FAAH-mediated eCB function offers a neurobiological explanation of why some people are more prone to develop PTSD following trauma exposure and  if this is a target for development of novel treatments for PTSD.”

###

About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.