The search for predictors of risk for post-traumatic stress disorder

September 5, 2011

Data in a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggest that certain variants of a gene that helps regulate serotonin (a brain chemical related to mood), may serve as a useful predictor of risk for symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a trauma.

"One of the critical questions surrounding PTSD is why some individuals are at risk for developing the disorder following a trauma, while others appear to be relatively resilient," says lead author, Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.

"It is known that genetic heritability is one component of the differential risk for PTSD, but the mechanisms remain relatively unknown."

In this study, the researchers were able to look at college students who had been interviewed for a study prior to a 2008 mass shooting on the Northern Illinois University campus, and then were interviewed afterward. The researchers used these prospective psychological data to examine the association between variants in the promoter region of the brain, and PTSD/ symptoms that developed in the aftermath of exposure to the shooting.

"We believe that the strength of this study is the availability of the same validated survey measure to assess PTSD symptoms prior to and after a shared acute traumatic event," explains Ressler, who is also a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory.

The data suggest that differential function of the serotonin transporter may mediate differential response to a . This is interesting because the gene product is the target for the first-line treatment for PTSD, the (SSRIs). Additionally, variants in the gene have previously been shown to be associated with different risk for depression following .

The researchers concluded that when examined in a relatively homogenous sample with shared trauma and known prior levels of child and adult trauma, this serotonin transporter genotype may serve as a useful predictor of risk for PTSD related symptoms in the weeks and months following trauma.

Importantly, notes Ressler, this is one of likely a number of genes that will ultimately be found to contribute to risk and resilience. As more of these gene pathways are understood, it is hoped that such findings will contribute to improved treatment and prevention as well as better prediction of risk for PTSD following traumatic exposure.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.