Does stress damage the brain? A paper by Tibor Hajszan and colleagues at the Yale University School of Medicine provides an important new insight to this question.
This issue emerged in the 1990's as an important clinical question with the observation by J. Douglas Bremner and colleagues, then at the U.S. Veteran Affairs National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), that hippocampal volume was reduced in combat veterans with PTSD. This finding was replicated by several, but not all, groups. In particular, it did not appear that this change was associated with acute PTSD.
Dr Krystal notes that "settling this issue could help us to better understand recent epidemiologic data suggesting that most of the adjustment problems of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-concussive syndrome are attributable to PTSD." He adds, "We have tended to think of PTSD and mild TBI as unrelated at the neural level. However, with growing evidence from animal studies that PTSD may be associated with loss of neural connections, it may turn out that PTSD and mild TBI are two distinct, but interacting, ways that soldiers might be affected by their combat experience. "