Genetic Factors Raise Risk of PTSD After Trauma, Especially in Women Interview with:

Laramie E Duncan, PhD</strong> Stanford University

Dr. Duncan

Laramie E Duncan, PhD
Stanford University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that some people experience after a traumatic event, like a terrorist attack, military conflict, or violence in the home. When people have PTSD, they may experience flashbacks to the traumatic event, nightmares, and other recollections of the event that can interfere with their day-to-day lives.

Before this study, not everyone was convinced that genetic factors make some people more prone to developing PTSD than others. Using a study of over 20,000 people and analyzing over two hundred billion (200,000,000,000) pieces of genetic information, we demonstrated that developing PTSD is partly genetic. We also found that genetic factors seem to play a stronger role for women than men, though for everyone, experiencing trauma is still the most important factor. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Another interesting thing about this work is that we didn’t find “the gene for PTSD”, and in fact, we knew that we might not be able to find any specific genetic causes for PTSD in this study. Though 20,000 might sound like a lot of people, this study is actually small by modern genetics standards. Just as we did in this study, the international consortium that we are a part of is continuing to collect samples from around the world (Psychiatric Genomics Consortium). Calculations on our data and data from other groups lead us to believe that there will be thousands of genetic influences on PTSD, and that we will be able to find many of them, if we study enough people and measure the right things. This is what the latest genetics research is telling us.

To make an analogy, the reason that major corporations succeed or fail is almost never due to just one person. The work of thousands of people is what ultimately determines a company’s success. The same is true of genetics: how a person responds to trauma doesn’t depend on just one genetic factor; it’s much more complicated than that, and ultimately we will find many genetic factors that help to explain why some people are more vulnerable to traumatic events than others. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Another benefit of this study is that it included more diverse individuals than most other genetic studies. By including many African American and Latino individuals, this work helps the broader genetics community, and helps to ensure that future benefits of genetics research will be applicable to a broad range of individuals.

We have no disclosures.

Laramie Duncan, PhD is a faculty member at Stanford University. She lead analytical work for the study and is first author.

Dr. Karestan Koenen of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health leads the PGC-PTSD group and is senior author. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Largest GWAS of PTSD (N=20,070) Yields Genetic Overlap with Schizophrenia and Sex Differences in Heritability. Molecular Psychiatry, April 2017 DOI: 10.1038/MP.2017.77

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on April 25, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD