Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the only major mental disorder for which a cause is considered to be known: that is, an event that involves threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others and induces a response of intense fear, helplessness or horror. Although PTSD is still largely regarded as a psychological phenomenon, over the past three decades the growth of the biological PTSD literature has been explosive, and thousands of references now exist. Ultimately, the impact of an environmental event, such as a psychological trauma, must be understood at organic, cellular and molecular levels. This Review attempts to present the current state of this understanding on the basis of psychophysiological, structural and functional neuroimaging, and endocrinological, genetic and molecular biological studies in humans and in animal models.
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