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Hauer, Daniela; Schelling, Gustav; Gola, Hannah; Campolongo, Patrizia; Morath, Julia; Roozendaal, Benno; Hamuni, Gilava; Karabatsiakis, Alexander; Atsak, Piray; Vogeser, Michael and Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana (2013): Plasma concentrations of endocannabinoids and related primary Fatty Acid amides in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In: PLOS ONE 8(5), e62741 [PDF, 804kB]


Endocannabinoids (ECs) and related N-acyl-ethanolamides (NAEs) play important roles in stress response regulation, anxiety and traumatic memories. In view of the evidence that circulating EC levels are elevated under acute mild stressful conditions in humans, we hypothesized that individuals with traumatic stress exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder characterized by the inappropriate persistence and uncontrolled retrieval of traumatic memories, show measurable alterations in plasma EC and NAE concentrations. We determined plasma concentrations of the ECs anandamide (ANA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and the NAEs palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), oleoylethanolamide (OEA), stearoylethanolamine (SEA), and N-oleoyldopamine (OLDA) by HPLC-MS-MS in patients with PTSD (n = 10), trauma-exposed individuals without evidence of PTSD (n = 9) and in healthy control subjects (n = 29). PTSD was diagnosed according to DSM-IV criteria by administering the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which also assesses traumatic events. Individuals with PTSD showed significantly higher plasma concentrations of ANA (0.48±0.11 vs. 0.36±0.14 ng/ml, p = 0.01), 2-AG (8.93±3.20 vs. 6.26±2.10 ng/ml, p<0.01), OEA (5.90±2.10 vs. 3.88±1.85 ng/ml, p<0.01), SEA (2.70±3.37 vs. 0.83±0.47, ng/ml, p<0.05) and significantly lower plasma levels of OLDA (0.12±0.05 vs. 0.45±0.59 ng/ml, p<0.05) than healthy controls. Moreover, PTSD patients had higher 2-AG plasma levels (8.93±3.20 vs. 6.01±1.32 ng/ml, p = 0.03) and also higher plasma concentrations of PEA (4.06±1.87 vs. 2.63±1.34 ng/ml, p<0.05) than trauma-exposed individuals without evidence of PTSD. CAPS scores in trauma-exposed individuals with and without PTSD (n = 19) correlated positively with PEA (r = 0.55, p = 0.02) and negatively with OLDA plasma levels (r = -0.68, p<0.01). CAPS subscores for intrusions (r = -0.65, p<0.01), avoidance (r = -0.60, p<0.01) and hyperarousal (r = -0.66, p<0.01) were all negatively related to OLDA plasma concentrations. PTSD appears to be associated with changes in plasma EC/NAE concentrations. This may have pathophysiological and diagnostic consequences but will need to be reproduced in larger cohorts.

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