A study published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal shows that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by genes that are also associated with the immune system.

The study was done by analyzing blood samples pertaining to 188 Marines both before and after they activated in conflict zones. Those that ended up developing PTSD showed a change in the relation and dynamics between multiple genes, which are also responsible for regulating and signaling disorders of the human body’s immune system.

It has been thought for a long time that PTSD is somehow linked to genetic factors, but previous studies focused on different gene expressions between sufferers and non-sufferers alike. This study instead compared whole transcriptome RNA sequences, and it found genetic differences in sufferers both before and after being afflicted with the condition.

Michael S. Breen, professor at the UK’s University of Southampton and one of the study’s top researchers, considers that the key to understanding the affliction’s pathology consists in analyzing the complex relations between different genes, as PTSD itself is regarded as a complicated disorder.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental health issue that appears after suffering through a traumatic event – be it witnessing death, sexual or violent assault or near-death experiences – and manifests itself in the form of nightmares, flashbacks of the event or feelings of being estranged.

The condition is most common amongst those that have participated or seen military action and conflict zones; about 11 to 20 percent of soldiers that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Force have shown symptom of posttraumatic disease during service or after discharge.

This doesn’t mean it isn’t irregular for normal people, as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 7 to 8 percent of the population will develop PTSD during their life. Women that witness traumatic events also seem to be more liable to develop PTSD than men in similar conditions.

The research might prove to be important not only military-wise, in providing a better means of identifying combatants that are more likely to develop posttraumatic conditions, but it can also help the development of better treatment for it.

PTSD is currently treated through therapy mostly, with medicine being prescribed for its secondary effects – such as depression or anxiety – but the cases in which the individual does not fully recover are not uncommon. Discovery of its specific genetic nature might help the development of drugs that can be used to combat it directly.

Image Source: Meadow Blog