What Role do Genes Play in PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder may be related to specific genes

(RxWiki News) A young couple driving home from a night out suddenly is hit from oncoming traffic by a drunk driver. Their car is totaled, but they luckily escape serious injury.

Two months later, the young woman is happy as grateful, but the young man has become depressed and anxiety ridden. Is the reason in his genes?

Researchers have identified a set of four genes related to an increased risk for developing PTSD. Those with with these genes may be up to seven times more likely to experience PTSD.

"Don't just 'suck it up', see a therapist after a traumatic experience."

“We found that individuals with these ‘at-risk' genetic variants were more likely to develop PTSD, especially those that had higher exposure to traumatic events,” said Joseph Boscarino, Ph.D., MPH, of the Geisinger Center for Health Research. "Those without these four genetic variants appeared to be highly resilient to PTSD, regardless of trauma exposure history."

The researchers interviewed 412 participants, some of whom had experienced PTSD, some who had not. Genetic samples were taken from all participants.

The researchers found that the specific genes FKBP5, COMT, CHRNA5, and CRHR1 were associated with PTSD.

In fact, the more of these four genes that were abnormal, the more likely that that individual would experience PTSD in their lifetime. Those who had the specific genes and had undergone a traumatic experience were especially likely to experience PTSD.

When researchers controlled for demographic factors, personality, and exposures to trauma, the researchers found that the patients with the associated genes had a 49 percent increased lifetime risk for developing PTSD, and a 136 percent increased risk for developing early onset PTSD.

Those who did not show abnormalities in any of the four genes were less likely to experience PTSD - whether or not they had had a traumatic experience.

The researchers hope that this knowledge will lead to better treatment and genetic counseling for PTSD. They especially hope to help policemen, firefighters, and those in the armed forces.

“More can and should be done to effectively identify and treat PTSD,” said Boscarino. “We believe our research has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of people who suffer from this debilitating condition.”

The study was published in March, 2012, edition of the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment and was funded by the Geisinger Clinic Research Fund and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Review Date: 
March 28, 2012