The American research team who carried out the research analysed the DNA of 200 members of 12 different families who has witnessed and survived the 1988 Armenian earthquake. All of those involved had either seen dead bodies during the incident, or had seen people who had been seriously injured.
What the researchers found was that study participants who carried two particular gene variants (TPH1 and TPH2) known to have an impact upon serotonin production (a hormone which affects mood), were more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD is said to affect approximately 3% of the general population at one point or another, and usually sets in after an individual has experienced trauma, for example after war, a natural disaster or sexual abuse.
Symptoms of the disorder range from flashbacks of the event or feeling numb on an emotional level, through to hypersensitivity to danger or situations that share similarities with that of the original event.
Speaking of the findings, head researcher Dr Armen Goenjian from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) said: “We suspect that the gene variants produce less serotonin, predisposing these family members to PTSD after exposure to violence or disaster.”
The research professor of psychiatry went on to add: “Our next step will be to try and replicate the findings in a larger, more heterogeneous population.”
Whilst larger scale studies are needed to cement these new findings, if they are found to be true this could eventually lead the way to the development of new ways to screen individuals at risk of PTSD. This would mean that specific medicines intended to prevent and treat the disorder could then be targeted.
“Our findings may also help scientists uncover alternative treatments for the disorder, such as gene therapy or new drugs that regulate the chemicals responsible for PTSD symptoms.” added Goenjian.
If either yourself or someone you know are experiencing symptoms of PTSD you should visit your GP for professional advice and support. You may also find one-to-one post trauma counselling beneficial. To find out more about counselling for PTSD, please visit our fact sheet.
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