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Many people undergo stressful or traumatic events during their lifetime, some more frequently than others. While there are a multitude of different stressors and everyone reacts in their own way, evidence shows that it is possible for two people to experience the same trauma that results in only one of them developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An article from McClean Hospital states that one of the main explanations for this circumstance relies on genetics.

 

Scientists have discovered that individual risk for PTSD is highly influenced by genetic variation. Research is still being done to determine which genes are involved with this risk and how they interact with environmental responses. The gene FKBP5 is one of the genes most commonly known to interact with environmental factors to instigate the development of PTSD. FKBP5 is responsible for regulating the brain’s response to stress (affecting the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) and causes the release of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”. The body is designed to release cortisol in order to help us cope with stressful situations. However, genetic variants to the FKBP5 gene can disrupt the system, causing either unrestrained or inadequate activation of cortisol release. Problems like these can also inhibit the ability to turn off the release of cortisol when the stressful situation is over. This type of dysfunction puts people at a much higher risk for developing PTSD.

 

While FKBP5 is a major gene that affects a person’s predisposition to PTSD, scientists have yet to discover the entire complex system of genes and environmental factors that can impact individual risk. One of the biological concepts that helps explain how both genetics and outside experiences affect this predisposition on the molecular level is known as environmental epigenetics, which is “the idea that we are not simply a product of our genes but also our experience”. While the genes we inherit from our parents play crucial roles, external factors and how they affect us are just as important.

Having family in the military makes this topic very important to me, as PTSD is most common in police officers, firefighters, and soldiers. I am thankful that researchers are continuing to study the development of PTSD as well as finding new methods of treating it.


Klengel, Torsten. "PTSD: How Does Genetics Affect Your Risk?" McClean Hospital. Harvard Medical School, 3 Dec. 2016. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.
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4 Comments

  1. I have spent the past month or so researching suicide among veterans in the Military for my Rhetoric presentation, and one of the most dominant factors that I studied was PTSD. I learned through my research how complicated and unique PTSD specifically from war is, so I find it interesting that individual risk for PTSD is influenced by genetics, as that is something I never came across during my research. It's crazy to think about how things as complex as PTSD can be traced back to its roots being partially affected by genes, and just how severe of an impact these genetic variations can have on things like mental health and stress coping. I also have lots of family in the military, so it is very reassuring to hear that scientists are working to study the development of PTSD and methods of treatment.

  2. Very interesting! When you think about how many different genetic factors are linked to PTSD, it's not hard to imagine that these implicated genes could play a role in causing other mental health conditions, especially anxiety disorders. Hopefully, understanding the genetic causes of PTSD will help researchers develop more specific and effective treatments for it and related conditions.

  3. I find this article interesting because of my families history of PTSD. Both my grandfather and uncle served in the military, both of whom saw combat. My uncle did not, and continues not to show any signs of PTSD, years after finishing his service. On the other hand, my grandfather suffered from severe PTSD that impacted his every day life. I find myself curious if my uncle was lucky enough to not have received this (or these) gene(s) from my grandfather, or if there was a particular situation my grandfather had been in that exasperated his PTSD. It is also possible that it is some combination of the two that caused this. While I have no way of being sure, I find it an interesting thing to think about.

  4. This article caught my attention because I believe that our country could do a much better job with our mental health awareness. We are doing so much research concerning physical conditions such as cancer and obesity, but we could be doing so much more concerting mental health. There seems to be this stigma about mental health issues such as PTSD that differentiates the person from other members of the community. Individuals who have mental health issues are isolated, and this should not happen. I hope that more research is conducted on the genetic causes of PTSD in order to bring awareness to other aspects of mental health.