Study looks to control trauma triggers

By Darla Brown, Office of Communications

Dr. Mohammed Milad - Trauma Research
Mohammed Milad, PhD

Just as a song can remind us of the junior high dance or prom, sounds also have the ability to return traumatic memories.

Pinpointing the location of these traumatic memories is the work behind a clinical trial, “Neuromodulation of the fear extinction circuit using temporally and anatomically specific TMS in humans,” led by Mohammed Milad, PhD, professor in the Faillace Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The 5-year project is now in its third year and recruiting patients in the Houston area. Milad joined the McGovern Medical School faculty in August from New York University, where the clinical trial began.

“The brain forms associations with significant emotions,” he explained. “You can be listening to your favorite artist and then get in a car accident.

“Hearing the song a year later, the memory will never go away, but the visceral reaction will go away for 85 percent of us. The rest will still have that trigger of fear.”

The research aims to accelerate the reduction of the trigger artificially through the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation – a noninvasive approach to Pavlovian conditioning.

The study is looking to recruit 250 healthy volunteers, from ages 18 to 70. Volunteers will first have their brain imaged to produce individualized targeting of the TMS, which is used clinically to treat depression.

“If we can pair TMS to an event or stimuli, it will be much more effective,” he said. “We are looking at enhancing our capacity to regulate fear.”

For more information on the clinical trial, please see