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Role of Substance P in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT00102102
Recruitment Status : Completed
First Posted : January 21, 2005
Last Update Posted : March 4, 2008
Information provided by:
National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC)

Brief Summary:

This study will examine the role of substance P, a chemical messenger in the brain, in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a chronic anxiety disorder. PTSD can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal, such as a violent personal assault, natural or human-caused disaster, accident, or military combat. Substance P is a peptide that may be important in the response to certain psychiatric and neurological diseases and conditions, including anxiety.

Healthy normal volunteers and people with PTSD who are between 18 and 65 years of age may be eligible for this study. Candidates are screened with a physical examination, blood and urine tests, pregnancy test for women who can become pregnant, and a neuropsychological evaluation.

Participants undergo positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning. An optional lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is also requested.

PET Scanning

PET uses small amounts of a radioactive chemical called a tracer that "labels" active areas of the brain. The tracer used in this study is [18F]SPA-RQ. For the procedure, the subject lies still on the scanner bed. A special mask is fitted to the head to help keep the subject's head still during the scan so the images will be clear. A 20-minute "transmission" scan is done before the radioactive tracer is injected to provide measures of the brain that will help in the precise calculation of information from subsequent scans. After the tracer is injected through a needle in the arm, pictures are taken continuously for about 2 hours. Then, 20- to 40-minute images are taken every hour until about 5 hours after the injection.

MRI Scanning

An MRI scan is scheduled at some time within 1 year of the PET scan. MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to obtain images of body tissues and organs. The subject lies still on a table inside the tunnel-like MRI scanner. Earplugs are worn to muffle loud noises that occur during the scanning. The maximum duration of the scan is 60 minutes.

Lumbar Puncture

Lumbar puncture is used to examine the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds both the brain and the spinal cord. For this procedure, a local anesthetic is given to numb the skin in the lower back area. A small needle is then inserted into the space between the bones in the lower back where the CSF circulates below the spinal cord. A small amount of fluid is collected through the needle.

Blood Draw

A blood sample is collected to generate cell lines that can be used to extract DNA (genetic material) for gene studies and that can be frozen for future use.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Drug: [18F]SPA-RQ

Detailed Description:

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic, debilitating disorder that places a significant burden on individuals and society. Abnormalities in the serotonergic and noradrenergic systems and dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis have been proposed as neurobiological mechanisms in the development of the disorder, however the exact underpinnings of the neurobiology of the disorder must be elucidated.

Distribution of substance P (SP) and its receptor, neurokinin 1 (NK1) receptor, includes regions implicated in the pathophysiology of PTSD, namely the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and locus ceruleus. There is a considerable spatial (and therefore functional) overlap between the SP-NK1 receptor system and other neurotransmitter (e.g., norepinephrine, serotonin) pathways with well established roles in anxiety. Preclinical studies indicate that stress regulates levels of SP in several brain regions. In addition, in several animal models, NK1 receptor antagonists demonstrate anxiolytic-like property. These anxiolytic-like effects seem to involve different mechanisms than those of currently available anxiolytics.

In this protocol, we will use a PET ligand that acts as an NK1 receptor antagonist, [18F]SPA-RQ ([18F]-labeled Substance P Antagonist Receptor Quantifier). Using this tracer, we will look for regional differences in NK1 receptor binding in 20 patients with PTSD and 20 healthy controls. The goal of the present study is to demonstrate the involvement of SP in PTSD, and thereby, further our understanding of its role in the psychopathology of this illness.

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Study Type : Observational
Enrollment : 40 participants
Official Title: PET Evaluation of NK1 Receptor Using [18F]SPA-RQ in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Study Start Date : January 2005
Study Completion Date : January 2006

Resource links provided by the National Library of Medicine

Information from the National Library of Medicine

Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contacts provided below. For general information, Learn About Clinical Studies.

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Ages Eligible for Study:   Child, Adult, Older Adult
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes


PTSD Samples:

Twenty subjects (age 18-65) with current PTSD, as defined by DSM-IV criteria, of any ethnicity without other significant medical conditions will be selected.

Healthy Control Samples:

Twenty healthy subjects (age 18-65) without a known personal or family history of psychiatric disorders in first-degree relatives will be selected.

A control subject will be matched to each subject with PTSD for age, gender, and handedness, respectively.

They must not be actively using illicit drugs or engaged in heavy consumption of alcohol, had no metallic implants that are ferromagnetic, and competent to sign consent forms to participate in the study.


Patients must not have taken antidepressant or other medications likely to alter SP-NK1 receptor system. Effective medications will not be discontinued for the purpose of this study.

Subjects will be excluded if they have:

  1. DSM-IV Axis I diagnostic criteria other than PTSD and Major depression (All controls must not meet any of the Axis I diagnoses);
  2. DSM-IV criteria for psychoactive substance abuse/dependence within six months;
  3. take psychotropic medication in last 3 weeks (8 weeks for fluoxetine);
  4. abnormal MRI other than minor atrophy;
  5. abnormal laboratory test, including HIV test;
  6. are currently pregnant or breast feeding (as documented by pregnancy testing at screening or at days of the scanning);
  7. prior participation in other research protocols within the past year such that a radiation exposure together with the present study would exceed the annual limits (A total effective dose 5.0 rem in a year and a 5 rad per year to the lens of the eyes, gonads and blood-forming organs; and 15 rad annually for all other organs);
  8. are unable to lay on one's back for PET/MRI scans (PET and MRI scans take approximately 5 and 1 hour, respectively);
  9. any condition that increases risk for MRI (e.g., pacemaker, metallic foreign body in the eye, etc.);
  10. individuals who recently donated blood;
  11. serious suicidal ideation or behavior;
  12. Xylocaine allergy;
  13. positive HIV test.

For healthy subjects, exclusion criteria b) through m) are same to those for PTSD subjects. As for item a), subjects will be excluded if they meet any current DSM-IV Axis I diagnostic criteria.

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its identifier (NCT number): NCT00102102

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United States, Maryland
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Bethesda, Maryland, United States, 20892
Sponsors and Collaborators
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Layout table for additonal information Identifier: NCT00102102    
Other Study ID Numbers: 050080
First Posted: January 21, 2005    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: March 4, 2008
Last Verified: January 2006
Keywords provided by National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC):
Substance P
Neuroreceptor Imaging
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Healthy Volunteer
Additional relevant MeSH terms:
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Stress Disorders, Traumatic
Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
Pathologic Processes
Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders
Mental Disorders