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Research sees benefit of TB drug for post traumatic stress
VA intends to test DCS's effectiveness on returning war veterans

By Rebecca Vesely, STAFF WRITER
06/28/2006 02:39:17 AM PDT 

A drug used for years to treat tuberculosis has been shown to alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and Bay Area researchers are now seeking to test its effectiveness in returning war veterans.

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center say they hope that a combination of therapy and the TB medication will give relief from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, more quickly and its effects will last longer.

The drug, called D-cycloserine, or DCS, belongs to a class of compounds that affect NMDA receptors, which act on the underlying mechanism of the brain that controls learning and memory.

"It's a way of tapping into the circuitry of the brain that unlearns the fear response," said Dr. Charles Marmar, chief investigator at the VA and vice chair of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

Recent studies have indicated that DCS accelerates the rate at which fears and phobias can be extinguished. DCS is a low-cost and widely available medication that has no side effects in humans.

Marmar and his colleagues are recruiting Northern California combat veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 to participate in the trial. Veterans can be active duty, National Guard or Reservists anyone who saw action during the war.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can cause serious psychological and social problems, and can persist for years without proper treatment. Combat, a plane crash, rape or other traumatic event can lead to PTSD.

The condition affects between one in three and one in five war veterans. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that it will see 20,000 new cases of PTSD this year among members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's unknown why some people develop PTSD and others exposed to the same traumatic event do not. Researchers believe it may have to do with the level of fear and terror a person experiences during the actual event, with controlled fear lowering the likelihood of developing PTSD, Marmar said.

Participants in the 16-week study will be randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first will receive a placebo and cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of therapy that focuses on confronting the traumatic event in the mind's eye, deep relaxation and dealing with events that could trigger a fear response.

This therapy has shown to be effective in preventing long-term PTSD in accident and assault victims.

The second group will receive a 50-milligram capsule of DCS a half-hour prior to the same behavioral therapy. The research is being funded by the Department of Defense.

Marmar is enthusiastic about the potential of the drug because patients wouldn't have to take it over long periods of time. Today, anti-depressants are routinely used to treat PTSD.

"It's not like putting someone on Prozac for the rest of their lives," Marmar said.

Veterans interested in participating should contact Tracy Sway at (415) 418-4360 or toll-free at (888) 567-6337.

Contact Rebecca Vesely at