PTSD Risk May Depend on Genetics A new study suggests that in some cases, a particular genetic profile is associated with development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Researchers determined 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,” said lead author Kerry J. Ressler, M.D., Ph.D.

“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 compared psychological data taken from 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.

Then researchers compared the psychological data with the genetic variants of the serotonin transporter gene found in students who developed PTSD/acute stress disorder symptoms.

“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,” said Ressler.

The data suggest that some functions of the serotonin transporter gene may mitigate or accentuate response to a severe trauma.

According to the authors, this is consistent with current pharmacological treatment of PTSD with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Additionally, variants in the gene have previously been shown to be associated with different risk for depression following life stress.

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, noted 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.

Source: Emory University