Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating syndrome that occurs in only some people after exposure to traumatic events. Both genetic and psychological factors are thought to contribute to the vulnerability towards pathological response to trauma. This project aims to determine the relative contribution of genetic and trauma-related risk factors for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a cross-sectional study of a highly traumatized, low socioeconomic status, minority urban population.
It is now commonly accepted that PTSD results from an interaction of predisposing genetic and environmental risks that enhance the likelihood of a pathological stress response and fear memory following severe trauma. However, almost nothing is known of the nature of the genetic contribution(s) and how they interact with other risk factors. We are examining 1300 non-psychiatric patients from the General Medical Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Our pilot data suggests that over 80% of this population has suffered significant trauma and approximately 30% have PTSD. We will examine three independent factors that contribute to the relative risk for PTSD following trauma: genotype polymorphism, lifetime history of trauma, and peri-traumatic emotional response to the PTSD-related event. Genetic risk factors include genetic polymorphisms that have been shown to contribute to the development of psychopathology in other stress-related psychiatric disorders. Lifetime history of trauma includes childhood trauma and total lifetime trauma.
Through a greater understanding of the vulnerability factors, both genetic and environmental, that contribute to pathological fear and stress following a trauma, this work will further the development of model systems as well as potentially provide novel intervention, diagnostic, and treatment approaches for this debilitating disorder.