Propranolol Before Memory Recall May Ease PTSD Symptoms

January 22, 2018

Administering propranolol before asking patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to recall a traumatic event may significantly reduce PTSD symptoms, suggests a study published online in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

“The effect sizes obtained for pre-reactivation propranolol in our study compare well to those obtained with the best evidence-based treatment for PTSD, namely, cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as those obtained with the most recommended pharmacological treatment for PTSD, namely, SSRIs,” researchers wrote in the study, according to a Psychiatric News Alert. “Should these results be replicated in further studies, propranolol blockade of reconsolidation [of traumatic memories] may become a new therapy for some patients with PTSD.”

The double-blind trial randomized 60 adults with long-standing PTSD to propranolol, a nonadrenergic beta-receptor blocker, or placebo. Participants ingested their assigned agent 90 minutes before a brief memory reactivation session—in which they were asked to write and then read aloud a detailed first-person narrative of their traumatic memory—once a week for 6 weeks.

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Participants completed the patient-rated PTSD Checklist-Specific (PCL-S) at each session before receiving their treatment. At the start and end of the trial, clinicians assessed patients using the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS).

Although PCL-S and CAPS scores were similar for both groups at baseline and both groups had decreased scores at the posttreatment assessment, decreases in the propranolol group were significantly greater, compared with the placebo group, according to the study.

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Psychiatric News Alert reported mean CAPS scores of 52.0 for the propranolol group and 69.2 for the placebo group, and mean PCL-S scores of 38.4 with propranolol and 69.0 with placebo, at a 6-month follow-up.

“Pre-reactivation propranolol, a treatment protocol suggested by reconsolidation theory, appears to be a novel and efficacious treatment for PTSD,” researchers concluded. “Replication studies using a long-term follow-up in various trauma populations are required.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Brunet A, Saumier D, Liu A, Streiner DL, Tremblay J, Pitman RK. . The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2018 January 12;[Epub ahead of print].

Propranolol may help patients with PTSD. Psychiatric News Alert. January 16, 2018.

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