Neuroendocrine and psychophysiologic responses in PTSD: a symptom provocation study.
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Biological research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has focused on autonomic, sympatho-adrenal, and hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis systems. Interactions among these response modalities have not been well studied and may be illuminating. We examined subjective, autonomic, adrenergic, and HPA axis responses in a trauma-cue paradigm and explored the hypothesis that the ability of linked stress-response systems to mount integrated responses to environmental threat would produce strong correlations across systems. Seventeen veterans with PTSD, 11 veteran controls without PTSD, and 14 nonveteran controls were exposed to white noise and combat sounds on separate days. Subjective distress, heart rate, skin conductance, plasma catecholamines, ACTH, and cortisol, at baseline and in response to the auditory stimuli, were analyzed for group differences and for patterns of interrelationships. PTSD patients exhibited higher skin conductance, heart rate, plasma cortisol, and catecholamines at baseline, and exaggerated responses to combat sounds in skin conductance, heart rate, plasma epinephrine, and norepinephrine, but not ACTH. The control groups did not differ on any measure. In canonical correlation analyses, no significant correlations were found between response systems. Thus, PTSD patients showed heightened responsivity to trauma-related cues in some, but not all, response modalities. The data did not support the integrated, multisystem stress response in PTSD that had been hypothesized. Individual response differences or differing pathophysiological processes may determine which neurobiological system is affected in any given patient.