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PTSD, TBI and Other Post-Deployment Mental Health Research

The Mid-Atlantic (VISN 6) MIRECC is a translational research, education and clinical center that develops and applies scientific knowledge and best practices to enhance post-deployment mental health and wellness for our nation's Veterans and their families.

Post-Deployment Research Studies - Veterans who have served in the military since September 11, 2001 or active-duty military personnel may be eligible to participate in one or more of our ongoing studies. The studies examine different aspects of recent military deployment on mood, emotions, and mental and physical health of military personnel. The goal of these studies is to recognize problems early and improve care. Veterans with or without problems are welcome to participate. 

The research program at the VISN 6 MIRECC comprises six interdependent labs. These labs were designed to work closely together to investigate the causes of post-deployment mental illness, to examine their longitudinal course, and to investigate new treatments that protect against the development of mental illnesses or lessen their courses.

An example of this interdependence is our coordinated focus on the interaction of TBI and PTSD. This project represents a joint effort with the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in Richmond and two additional VISN 6 MIRECC sites. Veterans of OEF/OIF/OND with suspected or documented TBI are being evaluated and followed by our Neurocognition Lab. This group of researchers is investigating the degree to which TBI potentiates PTSD and/or masks PTSD. At some of our sites, Veterans are invited to be evaluated by our Neuroimaging Lab, which utilizes state-of-the-art methods in structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) including diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to search for subtle brain trauma, particularly that which may affect white-matter fiber tracts that communicate between brain regions. These Veterans may also have the opportunity to be evaluated with functional MRI, a technique that examines the activity of brain regions as they perform cognitive tasks associated with memory and decision making. The Clinical Interventions & Metabolomics Lab is investigating novel therapies that might include SSRI medications for PTSD and cognitive enhancers for TBI. The Genetics Lab is investigating how particular genes and their variants, such as APOE, influence the likelihood of recovery.

A second example is our investigation of PTSD and other anxiety disorders. The Clinical Interventions & Metabolomics Lab has two roles. The first is to conduct secondary prevention studies using SSRIs and other agents in sub-threshold PTSD to determine whether chronic PTSD can be prevented or ameliorated in severity. The second role is to investigate the basic brain chemistry of stress using state-of-the-art assays for neurosteroids and other molecules. Both studies depend upon an accurate assessment of neurocognition provided by the Neurocognition Lab. The Neuroimaging Lab is investigating the response of brain systems for stress in Veterans with similar wartime experiences but who do or do not have PTSD, depression, or other mental illnesses. The Genetics Lab is investigating what genes differentiate those Veterans who do, or do not, develop PTSD or other mental illnesses. The Genetics Lab is also investigating which genetic profiles predict successful treatment by particular drugs. The Health Services Lab is developing strategies that enhance the effectiveness, quality, and cost-efficiency of mental healthcare among Veterans. Finally, the Neuroscience Lab is utilizing animals in which particular genes known to influence the stress response have been 'knocked-out' or 'over-expressed.' These studies will help develop animal models for PTSD and other disorders that can then be used to accelerate the development of new drug treatments.

Research Core Mission: The mission of the Research Core is to create new knowledge about post-deployment mental health and comorbidity utilizing state-of-the-art genetic, neurocognitive, and neuroimaging assessments to identify differentiating characteristics and to develop novel interventions. Focus areas of research are TBI, PTSD, suicide and violence prevention, substance misuse and pain. Research focused on special populations of Iraq/Afghanistan-era Veterans include rural Veterans, families, and Veterans experiencing homelessness.

Jean C. Beckham, PhD
Co-Associate Director

Christine Max, MD
Co-Associate Director

    Explore VISN 6 Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center