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Risk of PTSD Linked to Genes, Environment

Childhood adversity and trauma during adulthood appear to predispose individuals to post-traumatic stress disorders.

Researchers found the combination of insults were more predictive of PTSD than exposure to only one type of disturbance.

Furthermore, the risk was additionally accentuated among individuals with a certain genetic mutation.

The report is found in the November issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Although 40 percent to 70 percent of Americans have experienced traumatic events, only about 8 percent develop PTSD during their lifetimes, according to background information in the article.

PTSD is a complex anxiety disorder that involves re-experiencing, avoidance and increased arousal following exposure to a life-threatening event.

“In addition to the obvious effect of environmental factors, PTSD has a heritable component,” the authors write. Recent studies estimate that genetic factors account for approximately 30 percent of the difference in PTSD symptoms.

Pingxing Xie, B.S., of Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., and VA Connecticut Healthcare Center, West Haven, and colleagues studied 1,252 individuals who had experienced childhood adversity (including abuse or neglect), adult trauma (such as combat, sexual assault or a natural disaster) or both.

Participants age 17 to 79 (average age 38.9) were interviewed and assessed for a variety of psychiatric and substance use disorders. DNA was extracted and used to differentiate between versions of a particular polymorphism or gene mutation—known as the 5-HTTLPR genotype—previously found to be associated with emotional response after stressful life events.

About one-fifth of the participants (229, or 18.3 percent) met criteria for PTSD. A total of 552 of the 1,252 participants (44.1 percent) experienced both childhood adversity and traumatic events in adulthood. These individuals were more likely to have a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD than were those who experienced trauma in only one life stage (29 percent vs. 9.9 percent).

“Although the 5-HTTLPR genotype alone did not predict the onset of PTSD, it interacted with adult traumatic events and childhood adversity to increase the risk for PTSD, especially for those with high rates of both types of trauma exposure,” the authors write.

The genotype may influence the way the brain processes the neurotransmitter serotonin, affecting an individual’s anxiety levels and changing the way neurons react to fearful stimuli, they note.

“It was only in the group of subjects who could be characterized as having had the highest rates of trauma exposure (i.e., in both childhood and adulthood) that an impact of 5-HTTLPR could be detected,” the authors conclude.

“This suggests that there may be many neurobiological (including genetically determined) ‘buffers’ to PTSD; only in instances of extreme and/or repeated trauma exposure (which, it should be pointed out, characterizes those trauma ‘types’ with the highest conditional risk for PTSD, e.g., domestic violence and military combat), in which these buffers are overwhelmed, can the impact of specific genes such as 5-HTTLPR be detected.”

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals

Risk of PTSD Linked to Genes, Environment

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Risk of PTSD Linked to Genes, Environment. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 16, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2009/11/03/risk-of-ptsd-linked-to-genes-environment/9296.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.