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Purpose: The physiological manifestations of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been associated with an increase in risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) independent of negative lifestyle factors. The goal of the study was to better elucidate the mechanisms behind the increased CVD risk by examining peripheral vascular function, a precursor to CVD. Moreover, this study sought to determine the role of oxidative stress and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity in PTSD-induced vascular dysfunction.

Methods: Sixteen individuals with PTSD (10 women, 6 men; age 24 ± 4 years), and twenty-four healthy controls (CTRL; 15 women, 9 men, 24 ± 4 years), participated in the study. The PTSD group participated in two visits, consuming either a placebo or antioxidant cocktail (AO - vitamins C and E and alpha lipoic acid) prior to their visits, in a randomized order. Arm vascular function was assessed via the reactive hyperemia- induced flow mediated dilation of the brachial artery (BAFMD) technique and evaluated with Doppler ultrasonography. Brachial artery and arm microvascular function were determined by percent change of diameter from baseline normalized for BA shear rate (BAD/Shear), and blood flow area under the curve (BF AUC), respectively. Heart rate variability (HRV) was used to assess autonomic nervous system activity.

Results: BF AUC was significantly lower (p = 0.02) and SNS activity was significantly higher (p = 0.02) in the PTSD group when compared to the CTRL group. BAD/Shear was not different between groups. Following the acute AO supplementation, BF AUC was augmented to which it was no longer significantly different (p = 0.16) when compared to the CTRL group. SNS activity within the PTSD group was significantly reduced (p=.007) following the AO supplementation when compared to the PL condition, and the difference between PTSD and CTRL was no longer significant (p=.41).

Conclusion: Young individuals with PTSD demonstrated lower arm microvascular, but not brachial artery, function as well as higher sympathetic activity when compared to healthy controls matched for age, sex, and physical activity level. Furthermore, this microvascular dysfunction and SNS activity was attenuated by an acute AO supplementation to the level of the healthy controls. Taken together, this study revealed that the modulation of oxidative stress, via an acute AO supplementation, improved vascular dysfunction in individuals with PTSD, potentially by reducing the substantial SNS activity associated with this disorder.

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Rehabilitation and Therapy

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VCU Graduate Research Posters

Vascular Dysfunction and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Examining the Role of Oxidative Stress and Sympathetic Activity