When Memory Becomes a Burden

A violent assault or a car accident – traumatic events in the past could affect your present and future health. They can trigger emotional and even physical reactions that make you more prone to a number of different mental health conditions. The Clinical Research Priority Program (CRPP) Synapse & Trauma seeks to connect different strands of treatments to develop a novel approach to alter aversive memories with a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacological agents. ZNZ News talked with Birgit Kleim, co-head of the CRPP, about the potential and the opportunities she sees in the collaborative network.

What are the main goals of Synapse & Trauma?
This CRPP built on the recent discovery that doxycycline, a potential synaptic plasticity inhibitor, impairs aversive learning. Aversive learning is a key factor involved in the development of stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric disorders. These are amongst the most costly and prevalent psychiatric disorders, associated with significant comorbidity, functional impairment, high health care use and thus significant economic burden. Current treatment and prevention strategies are in dire need for improvement. The recent discoveries on synaptic plasticity inhibitors provide potential for secondary prevention of PTSD after psychological trauma, and possibly also for improving treatment. The two main goals are to provide broader and more specific evidence for these potential applications, and to prepare their clinical implementation. Based on our findings, we may propose a novel approach to alter aversive memories with a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacological agents.

What is the unique chance of Synapse &Trauma?
We want to identify and test new candidate drugs to modify synaptic plasticity and to translate this knowledge to deliver cutting edge clinical treatment. Reaching these goals delineated above and furthering our understanding of synaptic plasticity inhibition and translating those findings to the clinic requires a close integration of molecular neuroscience with clinical psychotherapy, and thus, a specific skillset in research and clinical practice. The CRPP Synapse & Trauma thus also seeks to initiate a cross-disciplinary training network to build this skillset for the next generation of researchers in the field of molecular memory intervention that spans over multiple disciplines, including psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience and pharmacology.

What do you hope to achieve within the scope of the CRPP?
We hope to identify new drugs that can be applied to memory modulation in the clinic, based on a precise understanding of their molecular mechanism of action that we obtained from human and animal studies. More specifically: While previous models for pharmacological intervention targeted synapses indirectly via neurotransmitters, our studies focus on directly targeting molecular pathways involved in degrading old, and shaping new synaptic connections. In our projects, we currently investigate two candidate drugs already approved for other indications. Using in-vitro and animal models, the CRPP also seeks to decipher signalling pathways and elucidate further drug targets.

Find out more about the CRPP Synapse & Trauma.