Traumatic stress may affect DNA, but psychotherapy may heal it

A new study published in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics for the first time demonstrates that traumatic stress may induce DNA breakage, but psychotherapy may heal it. Previous research reveals an association between traumatic stress and an increased risk for numerous diseases, including cancer. At the molecular level, stress may increase carcinogenesis via increased DNA damage and impaired DNA repair mechanisms. The authors assessed DNA breakage in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and measured the cellular capacity to repair single-strand breaks after exposure to ionizing X-radiation. They also investigated the effect of psychotherapy on both DNA breakage and DNA repair.

In a first study we investigated DNA breakage and repair in 34 individuals with PTSD and 31 controls. Controls were subdivided into 11 trauma-exposed subjects and 20 individuals without trauma exposure. In a second study, we analysed the effect of psychotherapy (Narrative Exposure Therapy) on DNA breakage and repair. Thirty-eight individuals with PTSD were randomly assigned to either a treatment or a waitlist control condition. Follow-up was performed 4 months and 1 year after therapy.

In study 1 we found higher levels of basal DNA breakage in individuals with PTSD and trauma-exposed subjects than in controls, indicating that traumatic stress is associated with DNA breakage. However, single-strand break repair was unimpaired in individuals with PTSD. In study 2, we found that reversed not only PTSD symptoms, but also DNA strand break accumulation. The results of the study showed - for the first time in vivo - an association between traumatic stress and DNA breakage; they also demonstrate changes at the , i.e., the integrity of DNA, after psychotherapeutic interventions.


Explore further

PTSD symptoms associated with increased food addiction

More information: Morath J., Moreno-Villanueva M., Hamuni G., Kolassa S., Ruf-Leuschner M., Schauer M., Elbert T., B├╝rkle A., Kolassa I.T." Effects of Psychotherapy on DNA Strand Break Accumulation Originating from Traumatic Stress." Psychother Psychosom 2014;83:289-297
Journal information: Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics

Provided by Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics
Citation: Traumatic stress may affect DNA, but psychotherapy may heal it (2014, October 23) retrieved 21 October 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-10-traumatic-stress-affect-dna-psychotherapy.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
2 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

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