December 29, 2008
Big Genetic Contribution To Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I picture Jack Nicholson saying "you can't handle the truth" and Tom Cruise says "I got the genetic profile that says I can". Of course, maybe he doesn't. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has a big genetic component for vulnerability to it after a great shock.

Earthquakes have aftershocks not just the geological kind but the mental kind as well. Just like veterans of war, earthquake survivors can experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

In 1988, a massive earthquake in Armenia killed 17,000 people and destroyed nearly half the town of Gumri. Now, in the first multigenerational study of its kind, UCLA researchers studying survivors of that catastrophe have discovered that vulnerability to PTSD, anxiety and depression runs in families.

Armen Goenjian, a research psychiatrist in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and colleagues studied 200 participants from 12 multigenerational families exposed to the earthquake. Participants suffered from varying degrees of the disorders. The researchers found that 41 percent of the variation of PTSD symptoms was due to genetic factors and that 61 percent of the variation of depressive symptoms and 66 percent of anxiety symptoms were attributable to genetics. Further, they found that a large proportion of the genetic liabilities for the disorders were shared.

The research appears in the December issue of the journal Psychiatric Genetics.

These genetic factors that contribute to PTSD will eventually be identified. I see this as a problematic turn of events for police departments, fire departments, militaries, and other organizations that put people in dangerous situations. People whose genetic profiles show they will get messed up permanently from getting into firefights are better off not getting into combat. Of course, combat poses other threats like getting one's leg or arm blown off that are going leave you seriously messed up or dead regardless of your genetic inheritance. But the total average cost of going into combat will be higher for people who have a genetic predisposition to get PTSD.

On the bright side, a discovery of which genes contribute to PTSD risk will help in the development of drugs that will prevent PTSD. That'll work better for combat troops than for people who get into natural disasters since the combat troops can start taking the protective drugs before they go into battle. Whereas many types of disasters like tornadoes and volcanic eruptions can come on too quickly for people to start using drugs in advance to prevent mental changes that'll permanently scar them.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 December 29 03:38 PM  Brain Genetics


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