The centrality of fear extinction in linking risk factors to PTSD: A narrative review

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Abstract

Recent prospective studies in emergency services have identified impaired fear extinction learning and memory to be a significant predictor of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), complementing a wealth of cross-sectional evidence of extinction deficits associated with the disorder. Additional fields of research show specific risk factors and biomarkers of the disorder, including candidate genotypes, stress and sex hormones, cognitive factors, and sleep disturbances. Studies in mostly nonclinical populations also reveal that the aforementioned factors are involved in fear extinction learning and memory. Here, we provide a comprehensive narrative review of the literature linking PTSD to these risk factors, and linking these risk factors to impaired fear extinction. On balance, the evidence suggests that fear extinction may play a role in the relationship between risk factors and PTSD. Should this notion hold true, this review carries important implications for the improvement of exposure-based treatments, as well as strategies for the implementation of treatment.

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