How Genetic Traits Influence Stress Response

Men and women may be affected differently

By on April 6th, 2009 15:01 GMT

According to a new scientific study conducted by investigators at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, people react differently to stress, mostly on account of their genetic differences. Another important factor that generates varying responses to stressors (factors associated with stress) is the gender of a person. The study has revealed that men and women respond differently to the same stressful situations, with the latter suffering their effects more than their counterparts.

The results of the new investigation, only recently published and detailed in an online issue of the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, also show that some people are tough in accepting challenging situations, whereas others simply crumble under pressure and lose their cool. For the latter category, prolonged exposure to stressors can result in very serious physical and mental conditions, necessitating a number of medical interventions to get over.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that stress-related deaths will climb to number 2 as a cause of worldwide mortality in just little over two decades. Scientists at the HUJ have highlighted the fact that genetics and the hereditary factor are mostly responsible for the way in which people react in stressful situations. That is to say, the legacy of parents determines the levels of the cortisol stress hormone inside their children by as much as 62 percent. Despite the fact that this is a huge number, and worthy of attention, very few studies have thus far focused on genetics as a determinant of stress.

Using the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), HUJ experts analyzed saliva samples of 97 students, when they were asked to play a game in which they were pretenders for a job. They had to speak with a jury of three straight-faced members and also in front of a camera and a microphone. In a second phase, they were required to count backwards from 1,687 in multiples of 13, a very demanding task. If they made a mistake, they were asked to start from the top, which made for a very stressful environment.

Before and after samples were collected, the amount of the stress hormone was analyzed. In all individuals, it was larger after they underwent the interviews. The levels of the BDNF gene were also analyzed, as it posed varying levels of the amino-acids valine (Val) or methionine (Met). Possible combinations with these amino-acids are Val/Val, or Val/Met. The final analysis revealed that men sporting the BDNF Val/Val genotype were more likely to be stressed out by the events, as were women with the BDNF Val/Met amino-acid combination.

Women are more likely to suffer more from stress than men
   Women are more likely to suffer more from stress than men
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