Many soldiers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan survive injuries that would have been fatal in prior wars. However, about a third of our soldiers return from these wars and are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or depression. For many years, researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center have performed studies in these veterans with posttraumatic stress (PTS) to better understand the brain changes associated with the behavioral and cognitive problems they experience on a daily basis (e.g., sleep problems, nightmares, being jumpy and on-edge, problems concentrating). Such research is done in waves, depending on the availability of monetary funds, and it is usually focused on a specific research question. In this research , we pool research data from veterans obtained over the years from different waves but with similar methods and to perform additional data analyses. These would have been previously impossible because of separate and small data sets or because necessary processing software was not available at the time of original research submission. We therefore make good use of the existing research data, by pooling such data for more powerful statistical analyses and making connections between the different data sets in order to better understand the devastating effects of PTS in our veterans. Specifically, the analyses will identify brain characteristics of PTS that will help distinguish PTS from common conditions such as depression and alcohol abuse. Such information will help other medical researchers to develop better treatment of PTS for the well-being of our veterans.
The secondary data analyses will be performed in parallel to other research performed by the same investigators and will take about 2 years to complete. By the end of this time period, we will have a better understanding of structural changes that occur in the cortical ribbon and in the hippocampus of the brain of veterans with PTSD. We will better understand some of the biochemical changes that are thought to underlie these structural abnormalities, which will help other researchers design better treatment for PTS. We will know the specific brain changes that are related to the devastating behavioral and cognitive problems our veterans experience, so that clinical researchers can use that information to try to ameliorate or reverse these brain changes through proper pharmacological and/or behavioral treatment.