According to researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), people with a certain variation in two genes coding for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin are at an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The discovery is very important, particularly for the US military. Commanders in the field and in Washington DC have long since been trying to figure out why some warfighters are more likely to develop this condition, when others that go through the exact same situation do not.
With the new discovery, it may be possible to apply genetic screens to volunteers who want to join various branches of the military, and then assign missions to these individuals based on the risks they are unwittingly exposed to, Science Blog
Details of the new study were published in the April 3 online issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders. The main implication of the new work is that people's susceptibility to PTSD is inherited from their parents.
“People can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after surviving a life-threatening ordeal like war, rape or a natural disaster,” UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior psychiatry research professor, Dr. Armen Goenjian, explains.
“If confirmed, our findings could eventually lead to new ways to screen people at risk for PTSD and target specific medicines for preventing and treating the disorder,” adds the expert, who was also the lead author of the new research paper.
The investigation was carried out on 200 individuals, belonging to several generations, all of which were part of 12 extended families. All of the test subjects survived the massive 1988 earthquake that devastated Armenia.
The group learned that certain variants of the genes TPH1 and TPH2 – both involved in serotonin production – made people more likely to develop PTSD. Serotonin is involved in regulating sleep, alertness and mood, all of which are affected by post-traumatic stress.
Researchers now plan to test and see whether these genetic changes can be used to predict PTSD risks in a more heterogeneous population. If that is the case, then they may proceed with developing a new test for the disorder.