Enhancing exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a randomized clinical trial of virtual reality and imaginal exposure with a cognitive enhancer

Jo Ann Difede, Barbara O. Rothbaum, Albert A. Rizzo, Katarzyna Wyka, Lisa Spielman, Christopher Reist, Michael J. Roy, Tanja Jovanovic, Seth D. Norrholm, Judith Cukor, Megan Olden, Charles E. Glatt, Francis S. Lee

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12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a significant public health issue. Yet, there are limited treatment options and no data to suggest which treatment will work for whom. We tested the efficacy of virtual reality exposure (VRE) or prolonged imaginal exposure (PE), augmented with D-cycloserine (DCS) for combat-related PTSD. As an exploratory aim, we examined whether brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) moderated treatment response. Military personnel with PTSD (n = 192) were recruited into a multisite double-blind randomized controlled trial to receive nine weeks of VRE or PE, with DCS or placebo. Primary outcome was the improvement in symptom severity. Randomization was stratified by comorbid depression (MDD) and site. Participants in both VRE and PE showed similar meaningful clinical improvement with no difference between the treatment groups. A significant interaction (p = 0.45) suggested VRE was more effective for depressed participants (CAPS difference M = 3.51 [95% CI 1.17–5.86], p = 0.004, ES = 0.14) while PE was more effective for nondepressed participants (M = −8.87 [95% CI −11.33 to −6.40], p < 0.001, ES = −0.44). The main effect of DCS vs. placebo was not significant. Augmentation by MDD interaction (p = 0.073) suggested that depressed participants improved more on placebo (M = −8.43 [95% CI −10.98 to −5.88], p < 0.001, ES = −0.42); DCS and placebo were equally effective for nondepressed participants. There was an apparent moderating effect of BDNF Val66Met polymorphism on DCS augmentation (ES = 0.67). Met66 allele carriers improved more on DCS (ES = −0.25). FAAH 385 A carriers improved more than non-carriers (ES = 0.33), particularly those with MDD (ES = 0.62). This study provides a step toward precision therapeutics for PTSD by demonstrating that comorbid MDD and genetic markers may help guide treatment selection. ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01352637.

Original languageEnglish
Article number299
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

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