Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer
James and Patricia Poitras Chair in Psychiatry
Chief, Division of Depression & Anxiety Disorders
McLean Hospital
Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

“PTSD & Fear: From Neurobiology to Future Prevention and Treatment”


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) manifests after exposure to a traumatic event and is characterized by avoidance/numbing, intrusive symptoms and flashbacks, mood and cognitive disruptions, and hyperarousal/reactivity symptoms. These symptoms reflect dysregulation of the fear system likely caused by poor fear inhibition/extinction, increased generalization, and/or enhanced consolidation or acquisition of fear. These phenotypes can be modeled in animal subjects using Pavlovian fear conditioning, allowing investigation of the underlying neurobiology of normative and pathological fear. Preclinical studies reveal a number of cell-types, systems and circuits critical for aversive learning and memory that have informed the development of therapies used in human clinical trials. In this talk, I will discuss recent evidence for genetic, neurobiological, and neural circuit mechanisms to understanding PTSD.  Finally, I’ll discuss neurobiology-driven future approaches to treatments and interventions that have been developed via a bench to bedside translational models.

Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, is the Chief Scientific Officer at McLean Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  He is an international leader in understanding the biology of posttraumatic stress disorder and amygdala function.  He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, a prior HHMI Investigator, Past-president of the Society for Biological Psychiatry and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.  He is author of >500 manuscripts focused on the molecular neuroscience of fear as well as the human psychobiology of stress and trauma through leadership of multiple national consortia for deep phenotyping and understanding biomarkers and the genetic architecture of PTSD.

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