Genetic and Epigenetic Alterations as Biomarkers for PTSD Diagnosis and Prognosis


Identify specific genetic biomarkers that can be used to detect the presence of PTSD, to determine who successfully responds to treatment, and to identify individuals at risk for developing PTSD.

Although some studies have shown that genetics play a role in one’s susceptibility to develop posttraumatic stress disorder, we are at the very early stages of discovering the specific role of various genetic factors underlying this debilitating condition. Key questions that need to be addressed include: Why do some people get PTSD while others do not? Why do some people recover faster than others from treatment? And importantly, are there measurable genetic biomarkers – physical indicators – that can identify the presence of the disorder, reflect whether a patient is improving, and reveal who may be at risk to develop PTSD?

Douglas E. Williamson, PhD, of Duke University and the Durham VA Medical Center along with his outstanding team of collaborators have developed a study for the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD that will evaluate potential diagnostic and prognostic genetic biomarkers to detect PTSD, indicate who has responded to treatment, and identify individuals at risk to develop PTSD if they are exposed to a traumatic event.

Multidisciplinary team

The collaborative team of scientists includes a genetic epidemiologist, a psychiatric geneticist, a geneticist, a neuroanatomist, human postmortem experts, biostatisticians, and a clinical psychologist.

Investigators will analyze samples available in a repository from studies conducted under the auspices of the STRONG STAR Multidisciplinary Research Consortium that includes epidemiologic studies and clinical trials, as well as from a separate human brain bank to screen the entire genome in an effort to identify genetic and epigenetic markers linked with PTSD.

Resources that they will analyze include postmortem brain tissue from people with and without PTSD; blood samples collected from patients prior to and after treatment for PTSD; and data from blood collections and PTSD assessments of service members before and after deployment.

Potential benefits

It is expected that this project will be an important first step in identifying diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of PTSD as well as filling gaps in our understanding of new genetic mechanisms underlying PTSD. That improved understanding could guide medical science in the quest to improve detection, treatment, and prevention of this disorder and related conditions.

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