• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Wednesday 14th May, 2008

Genes may influence the fault-lines beneath the trauma

Physicians and therapists used to think that extremely stressful experiences caused post-traumatic stress disorder in just about everyone. But research is gradually painting a more complex picture. It appears that individuals who have a certain genetic makeup andhave had stressful experiences earlier in life are most vulnerable to PTSD following later trauma.The exact causes of PTSD are not well understood, but a recent study by Kerry J Ressler and colleagues at Emory University has contributed to this emerging understanding. They surveyed 900 adults, mostly African Americans, aged 18 to 81 years, from poor, urban neighborhoods.Because of their backgrounds, many of the participants had severe traumatic experiences as both children and adults. The researchers also collected saliva samples from participants to collect genetic information.They found that, by itself, abuse in childhood was not enough to increase PTSD symptoms following adult trauma. The symptoms appeared to increase only in individuals who were abused in childhood and had certain variations in the stress-related gene called FK506 binding protein (5FKBP5). Interestingly, the researchers also found that other variations of this gene seemed to protect people from an increase in symptoms following trauma. More research is needed before such evidence can be used in the real world. One possible outcome is that soldiers (and others going into high stress situations) could undergo screening to determine their ability to handle trauma. But the fabric of ordinary life might also benefit By some measures post-traumatic stress disorder in US inner cities is said to be as prevalent as it is among populations of war veterans. The Emory team noted another, perhaps more commonsense implication of the research: "If we could simply reduce childhood abuse, it would have a major impact on mental health".[See also “Genes and Post-Traumatic Stress” in TIME magazine and ”Combined Factors May Change Biology Of Stress-Response System As It Develops” in Medical News Today]• Summary of “Association of FKBP5 Polymorphisms and Childhood Abuse with Risk of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Adults” by Elisabeth Binder, Kerry J. Ressler, and colleagues from Emory University and other facilities in Journal of the American Medical Association, March 19, 2008, Volume 299, Number 11, pp 1291-1305.

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