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SANANTONIO -- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects thousands of troops. Now, San Antonio scientists are using a new approach to find ways to help people suffering from this disabling problem.

Neuroscientists are looking into the biology of PTSD. Their models are laboratory rats. The animals reactions to stress mirror their human counterparts.

Everyone who goes to war experiences traumatic stress. The violence and unpredictability of living in a battle zone can take a toll and create anxiety.

We think that PTSD is kind of like getting stuck in an inappropriate response mode, explained U.T. Health Science Center neuroscientist David Morilak, Ph.D.

Researchers at UTHSC are looking at the brains of rats to find answers. The rats have been exposed to early stresses to create a PTSD-type anxiety.

And we found that stress early in life produces changes in the brain that persist into adulthood, explained neuroscientist Megan Roth, Ph.D. These changes are associated with enhanced fear.

Tests show not only are these rats brains physically different. So are their performances on behavioral tests.

Rats are taught by sight and smell where to look for treats of Cheerios. Then the smells and textures change.

Average rats learn to adapt. Rats with stress-created PTSD struggle to change the pattern.

Exploring brain-related changes may help explain why only about 30 percent of people exposed to traumatic stress develop PTSD.

The goal is to find new ways to treat it. So we really think this will give us some clues into what s happening with PTSD, Morilak commented.

This research is being funded by more than a million dollars from the Department of Defense.

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