Neurotransmitter alterations in PTSD: catecholamines and serotonin.

S. M. Southwick, S. Paige, C. A. Morgan, J. D. Bremner, J. H. Krystal, D. S. Charney

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


In this chapter we review trauma-related studies involving epinephrine (E), norepinephrine (NE), and serotonin (5-HT). Central catecholamine neurons seem to play a critical role in level of alertness, vigilance, orienting, selective attention, memory, fear conditioning, and cardiovascular responses to life-threatening stimuli. Evidence of catecholamine dysregulation in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) includes exaggerated increases in heart rate and blood pressure when exposed to visual and auditory reminders of trauma, elevated 24-hour urine catecholamine excretion, decreased platelet alpha-2 adrenergic receptor number, exaggerated behavioral, cardiovascular, and biochemical responses to IY yohimbine, decreased cortical brain metabolism secondary to IV yohimbine, and clinical efficacy of adrenergic blocking agents. Serotonin seems to play numerous roles in the central nervous system, including regulation of sleep, aggression, appetite, cardiovascular and respiratory activity, motor output, anxiety, mood, neuroendocrine secretion, and analgesia. Evidence of serotonergic dysregulation in PTSD includes frequent symptoms of aggression, impulsivity, depression and suicidality, decreased platelet paroxetine binding, blunted prolactin response to fenfluramine, exaggerated reactivity to m-chloro-phenyl-piperazine, and clinical efficacy of serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It has been suggested that alterations in NE, E, and 5-HT may have relevance for symptoms commonly seen in survivors with PTSD, including hypervigilance, exaggerated startle, irritability, impulsivity, aggression, intrusive memories, depressed mood, and suicidality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-248
Number of pages7
JournalSeminars in Clinical Neuropsychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes


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