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PTSD in women may have genetic link
February 25th, 2011
12:25 PM ET

PTSD in women may have genetic link

After a single traumatic event, as many as one-fourth of people exposed will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychiatric disorder characterized by anxiety, hyperarousal and persistent unwanted memories.

Scientists are looking for genes or gene pathways that can help better predict PTSD. A new study in the journal Nature suggests one such route in women: through a protein called pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide, which is known to regulate the cellular stress response. Women are more likely to have PTSD in general; 10% of women and 5% of men develop the condition sometime in their lives.

Participants, of which there were more than 1,200, came from an impoverished area around Atlanta, Georgia, and did not have military-related trauma. Interpersonal violence, gunshot violence, sexual assaults and other abuse were some of the triggers of PTSD reported.

Study results suggest that a particular gene variant for PACAP may be sensitive to both estrogen and stress, because it is associated with women who have PTSD.

"It helps us to understand that PTSD is complex," said Dr. Kerry Ressler of Emory University School of Medicine, lead study author. "There are many individual ways that people come to PTSD, in the same way that there are probably 100 different ways to come down with heart failure."

This is probably one of many biological pathways that lead to PTSD, he said. Understanding it will help get a better picture of the biology and the neural circuitry of PTSD, and could have implications for future diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Ressler's group found that this gene variant is highly associated with all three subcategories of PTSD: hyperarousal, intrusive memories and avoidant behavior. It could be broadly linked to all of them, or perhaps the definition of PTSD is not specific enough to what's going on biologically, Ressler said.

In rodents, the parts of the brain associated with fear and stress alter the regulation of these genes with fear learning. This could be happening in humans also, he said.

The gene variant described in the research influences the key human stress response system, which is central to PTSD and so it makes clinical sense that it would be involved, said Dr. John Markowitz, PTSD researcher at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, who is not a geneticist but offered his clinical perspective on the research.

But, Markowitz cautioned, in an e-mail, "the history of psychiatric genetics is littered with findings subsequently retracted or not borne out." This particular study, which he called an "elegant research report," has results that apply only to an estrogen gene in chronically traumatized women.

There is more work to be done to examine the roots of PTSD in men, and there may be other pathways involved in women with acute trauma, Markowitz said. Another next step would be to examine whether the results of this study are consistent in members of the military.


soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. Along The Way

    And it doesn't in guys?? Rediculous. And men don't have feelings and aren't moody either. If it's a genetic link in women, it's very likely in men as well (carried, dormant,etc???). Example: MOST women don't bald, but carry the gene. BUT, there are some women that DO go bald due to genetics.

    February 25, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BioGeek

      PACAP activity appears to be responsive to estrogen levels. Most women have significantly higher estrogen levels than most men. These are the factual findings that lead the authors to suggest PACAP may be an important contributor to PTSD in women. The authors, and this article, are careful to note that PTSD is a highly complex condition and many genes are involved. Men do develop PTSD but, as the article notes, 10% of women in the general population will develop PTSD sometime during their lives while only 5% of men will.

      February 25, 2011 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
    • Jane

      @Along the Way – The article doesn't say that it isn't in guys – the article says that the link they potentially found was found in estrogen in women who were 'chronically traumatized.' The article's purpose is to say 'hey, we found something' not to say 'We've done exhaustive research and concluded that this only occurs in women.' The last paragraph even says that more research into men needs to be done!

      February 25, 2011 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
    • Been There

      @Along the Way, geez don't get your tightie whities in twist. Did you bother to read the article? It was a study involving the ESTROGEN gene, and in the final paragraph they stated that there was more work to be done on the study of PTSD in men.

      Sheesh, you act like somebody kicked you in the nads.

      February 25, 2011 at 14:22 | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      @Been there
      I'm pretty sure you would have to have nads to be kicked there, whereas Along The Way is so emotional, it's as if he/she had lost it due to PTSD of reading this article. Therefore, no nads.

      February 25, 2011 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
    • GM

      Since I could not reply to a reply–It is possible for a variety of stimuli to be considered a trigger for PTSD. Even the written word. So yes, this study could be a trigger to some people who already suffer from the condition. It is nothing to laugh at though. PTSD isn't like being chronically ill all the time. Some people are just barely functional, so that when they are triggered and have an episode, those around them do not understand and think that the behavior is faked or for attention. Its quite sad. Most people afflicted thusly want a normal life and work really hard to achieve as much of that as they can. Even if that means overworking themselves to overcompensate for their new condition and it's satellite symptoms.

      February 25, 2011 at 18:26 | Report abuse |
    • Floyd

      Of course men have PTSD. The classic example is PTSD brought on during wartime, once called "shell shock."

      February 26, 2011 at 13:21 | Report abuse |
  2. Denny

    @Along The Way – Rightly Said. This article is playing off of gender stereotypes.

    February 25, 2011 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Been There

      See replies above, and then re-read the article.

      February 25, 2011 at 14:22 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Yes! Because, stereotypes are genetic, right Denny?

      February 25, 2011 at 20:57 | Report abuse |
  3. Female with PTSD

    I find this information interesting....I think the fact that it seems to link to estrogen levels, it makes the experience for a female different than for a male. Just like depression in men manifest differently than it does in women. I have had some form of PTSD for most of my 43 years on this earth having been exposed to multiple traumas at different times in life. Long term PTSD has left me with chronic major depression.....it would be nice if they could make someone like me better without daily meds!

    February 25, 2011 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GM

      I am not guaranteeing this will work for you–that being said. Try GABA for anxiety and to help you sleep at night. It is a nutritional supplement that is proven to help with mild to moderate anxiety. The other would be this. Your brain is tuned into your instincts. If the people around you [well meaningfully] tell you that you are over-reacting or imagining things, or that its not real, when its really just your instincts turned way up on high–do you think that will cause you to get better and get a handle on how you feel or do you think it might cause you to doubt yourself on a fundamental level and not trust your own perceptions? What might the end result be of these different processes?

      Just something to ponder. I hope that you are able to find what you need to make yourself whole again.

      February 25, 2011 at 18:30 | Report abuse |
    • GM

      I should add you can look GABA up online to see if it might be something that you might consider. And talk to your doctor about it. Counterindications and all that.

      February 25, 2011 at 18:33 | Report abuse |
  4. Bad Patient

    I bet those numbers are WAY OFF. (protecting the insurance companies and military maybe...they don't like to admit the truth when it cost them money) I would say those numbers are cooked...10% women and 5% men...probably to save the insurance companies money. Maybe they only allow so many a year or something. It's all they want to pay for. Health care is so half baked it's crazy.

    February 25, 2011 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Vera

    Take a look at the Pink Squadron's newsletter! The Pink Squadron is an online registry of women willing to participate in studies dealing with the breast cancer virus and vaccine. This newsletter goes over the human mammary tumor virus and info about the breast cancer vaccine. http://mim.io/b6a2e?fe=1&pact=3008404271

    February 25, 2011 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. DadsAdvocate

    Along the Way–
    Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but men and women are very different. So different that there is almost nothing that affects men and women the same way. To understand the root cause of almost all these differences you must understand a concept of evolutionary biology–"The Lens of Hypergamy" (Google it!) Once you understand this concept you will understand that not only are women different than men, but there are two differing ethical value sets. It is these differing ethics that causes most BEHAVIOURAL differences between men and women. Hormones affect, yes, but perceived reality has the greatest effect. I read between the lines that you wish women and men to be equal. Sorry, but that is not biologically, hormonally, or ethically possible.

    February 25, 2011 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Been There

      Well said, Dads Advocate.

      February 25, 2011 at 14:24 | Report abuse |
    • D

      Well said DadsAdvocate. I am a female, and I do know that we can be equal in areas, where others we are just made so differently it's impossible to say we can be exactly the same...Not a lot of feminists like me. lol

      February 27, 2011 at 21:36 | Report abuse |
  7. eric

    Here we go. Another "you are all insane and need drugs to help you" propaganda piece. Brought to you by Big Pharma

    February 25, 2011 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lawst

      Speaking as someone who has PTSD I can tell you that without my medication I'd be dead. Not sure how, bullet to the brain pan, suicide by cop, hanging...*shrug* any number of things. I just spent months unmedicated under the supervision of my new psych team at the VA so they coudl learn what I was like without the meds. There is no way to adequately describe how it feels. I'm medicated again, I can deal with people, I can leave my house and have fun, not spend my entire time out looking for threats and in a panic because I don't have my M-16 if anything does happen. To hear that there might be a *reason* I got it (beside the obvious) is a relief.

      February 26, 2011 at 22:14 | Report abuse |
  8. sparknut

    The Critical Incident Stress Management people have taught for years that one third of the population would be severely affected by a traumatic event, another third would be moderately affected and the last third will be less affected. They didn't talk of genetics, but the tendency has been understood for quite a while.

    February 25, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kelly

    I was diagnosed with PTSD after having my first child and losing my mother to breast cancer just four days later. It was horrible and seven years later I am still dealing with it and the horrible snapshot flashbacks that still haunt me. It is no laughing matter if you or someone you know is dealing with it.

    February 25, 2011 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Name*Sheena

    I lost both my parents at 18 years old in a violent event. I live with PTSD everyday. I will be 35 years young this year, and to those of you that call this a pharmacy this or that you are all very wrong. I feel for my fellow PTSD people out there. We are it seems always looking over our shoulders, jumping at every little noise, and stuck in that scary scene forever. I have raised my little brother from the time he was 5 years old, and he is now a soldier in Afganistan. My biggest fear is that he will get this horrible condition that people seem to think is a non-issue. Think or research before you judge!

    February 25, 2011 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • chris

      i studied carl jung to help me with my ptsd , an also like tool . i'm not complete yet , but it helps with understanding

      February 25, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  11. Discordia

    The genetic link is probably the biological relationship to the person who has traumatized the woman. E.g., father, brother, uncle.

    February 25, 2011 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • v8440

      Yes, because it's always a man's fault!

      February 26, 2011 at 09:20 | Report abuse |
  12. Wylie Tene

    This study was funded in part by a grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. http://www.afsp.org.

    February 25, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. SunNotRainToday

    Why don't these Chart articles come with a "Print" feature? They don't print properly. I save some to PDF, but they're all screwy. Other CNN articles print with good format, but not these crazy things. Hey Dr. Gupta! Tell your people to fix this!

    February 25, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. sumdumguy

    Yep, women are pretty much crazy. Didn't need a news story to tell me that.

    February 25, 2011 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Day

    Now all they have to do is explain how women who are breast cancer survivors, and are undergoing anti-estrogen therapy (which brings their estrogen level close to nil) are suffering of PTSD from the experience they've been through.

    February 25, 2011 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GM

      Because getting a diagnosis of a chronic disease scares the cr@p out of people, and this is especially true if it is delivered in a fashion that lacks empathy for the patient. Not to mention putting poisons in you hoping that it kills the cancer first is pretty scary too. PTSD is due to feeling completely helpless, stripped down and unable to cope on any level. Encountering death can do that to a person.

      February 25, 2011 at 18:19 | Report abuse |
    • Lawst

      GM...Not to mention having body parts lopped off.

      February 26, 2011 at 22:37 | Report abuse |
    • Carolyn

      Hehe, nu e nevoie sa-mi simti lipsa, am eu grija sa te atocrcesc din cand in cand :-pNu zice nimeni ca toate astea nu pot fi catalogate si ca echipe, din anumite puncte de vedere, zic doar ca uneori imi aduc aminte de vorba aia a lui Murphy: cand ai un ciocan in mana, toate lucrurile din jur ti se par cuie . In cazul tau, cuvintele cheie ar fi marketing si echipa (cele care te preocupa mai mult, cele la care-ti place sa revii des)

      March 5, 2012 at 22:37 | Report abuse |
  16. Sheila

    The world's getting far too close to "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" for my liking. Forget Severe Trauma actually causing stress.. that'd just be crazy.

    February 25, 2011 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. bill

    What about the War on Drugs? Been one of the oppressed for decades now and I sleep about 15 minutes at a time.
    Once they get a warrant it does not matter if they are right or wrong,they still treat you like crap verbally and physically
    and perhaps after a few days in jail they decide to drop the charges.
    After having ransacked your house and smashing anything smashable looking for "something".
    PSTD is an epidemic perpetrated by the Feds. Create fear and hate so they can come in with heavy handed "correction" doled out. Or meds.....buy our "approved" crap. Your flowers have no place here in Schedule One land.
    If the new wave of babies wearing TeaPartier diapers were as brave as Egyptians...yeah, that will be the day.

    February 25, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sheila

      uh... so are you saying you're high right now? I'd believe it.

      February 25, 2011 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
    • D

      Oh great, another conspiracy crazed man.

      February 27, 2011 at 21:53 | Report abuse |
    • sockpuppet

      i think by your own rambling crazed rant, you disproved everything you said

      February 28, 2011 at 03:24 | Report abuse |
  18. Really?

    This article is interesting seeing how females can't claim PTSD when deployed...

    February 25, 2011 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    A woman experiencing child birth is enough to give her PTSD, her entire body is ripped with undescribable pain.

    February 25, 2011 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. TheLeftCoast

    At a conference on Trauma, Culture & The Brain, at UCLA, I heard of a research study that exposed water bugs to what they would consider threatening stimuli, in this case, disturbing the water. When this happens, the bug's shape turns from oval to pointed in front, for defense and protection. They found that the threatened bugs' offspring was actually shaped in the pointed shape from birth, rather than the oval shape.

    February 25, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Good Patient

      I'd love to have this fact pointed out to the nitwits who think evolution is nonexistent.

      February 26, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse |
    • D

      What???what does that have to do with the artical? Did I miss something?

      February 27, 2011 at 21:54 | Report abuse |
  21. Jr

    PTSD is a condition that is hard to accept, because you do know that have it(recognize), now the medicine is saying that it can be heritage, be careful, today if you have cancer, this condition do not qualified any one to receipt SSD benefits unless, you are dieing, do not believe everything that you MD or any study state, the results can be manipulate, in order to get the result that they prefer too.

    February 26, 2011 at 07:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • v8440

      Please learn the English language if you're going to try to post in it. Spelling and learning to not have a 4000 mile long single sentence would be primary areas to focus in. I know, I know-this isn't English class. But, there are times when something is so annoying or hard to read that it ought not be written.

      February 26, 2011 at 09:24 | Report abuse |
    • Nyeso

      I second that wutioht argument. Supernatural is the sole TV show I have on dvd. Season 3 is good but season 4 is too dark for me. Then comes season 5, I have to say I like' Psych's good but I'm rooting for the Winchesters and their ass kicking angel *winks*

      March 4, 2012 at 03:22 | Report abuse |
  22. Joe

    Psychotherapy is the best treatment for PTSD (i.e. exposure therapy) and not medication. Apparently psychotherapy actually helps strengthen the neural pathways from the frontal lobe to the subcortical areas that control the fear response. It's pretty interesting stuff that the drug companies probably don't want you to know. About 70% of people with PTSD who go through these treatments get better.

    February 26, 2011 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lawst

      Exposure therapy is not the only kind of treatment, but yes, therapy helps. Psychotherapy is not an exact science and the wrong therapy can make a patient worse by causing more tauma. Medication is sometimes needed to get a person in a place where they can actually do the therapy. In an above reply I stated that I've just gone through 4 months unmedicated. All things considered, I did really well because I've got about 15 years of therapy to help me through it. Back on the meds I'm far better and therapy is back to focusing on getting me better, not keeping me alive and semi-functional (picking out socks was enough to end me into a tail-spin let alone grocery shopping or makign decisions at work).

      February 26, 2011 at 22:23 | Report abuse |
  23. andrea

    I have always suffered with anxiety and I was just told by a doctor that I suffer from PTSD. My mom has always believed that because her twin sister died when she was nine months pregnant with me that that was the reason I have my issues. I never really believed it until I read this. We are not a crazy family, but any information you find out would be great.

    February 27, 2011 at 03:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. rukidding

    Lets see wonder how much that study cost us taxpayers? When I could have told everyone for free! It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a genius to figure that out. I live with it, my brother lives with it, my younger sister lives with it, my Mother had it, my Grandmother (Mom's side) had it and so did Grandmothers Sisters, a couple of my Uncles, a few cousins. All on my Mothers side of the family none of us except for my brother was in the military (umm yes he had it before he joined) and in a few cases agoraphobic comes with that! We are not crazy either, nor suicidal, nor on meds, we all reach out to each other and that is our support, except for the ones with agoraphobia all of us function very well, work live and play, we are examples of living with it and coping and YOU can too!

    February 27, 2011 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Common Sense

    I don't think I'm suffering from PTDS at all, but I have anxiety, somewhat obessive, I stress over everything and evaluate and re-evaluate everything including the amount of toothpaste I use on my toothbrush every morning. I don't trust people (in general), and extreme fear of failing (at everything I try to do), and am terrified of being alone and having nobody. What exactly would someone diagnose that as?

    February 27, 2011 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sockpuppet

      that is in the anxiety family–could be generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, social anxiety, ....there are many variants within that category. You might try medication and therapy

      February 28, 2011 at 03:27 | Report abuse |
  26. Common Sense

    It doesn't help that I feel I'm constantly judging myself and try to make myself better, so I have eating disorders, and its hard to feel healthy when on top of it, I suffer from acid reflux. I think I'm depressed, but how exactly? And I don't believe in taking medication at all, and it's hard to sleep more than 3 hours a night. What can I do? Any thoughts or answers?

    February 27, 2011 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sockpuppet

      sorry didn't see your second post at first. I understand a resistance to taking medication, but it can really change your life for the better. When I am not on my meds for a long period of time, I can get to the point where I am completely non-functional (not even eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom) from an overwhelming level of anxiety. When I am consistently on my medication (it can take up to 2 months to really feel it and see it) it's like I am a completely different person–happy, calm, no longer irritable, able to live my life and enjoy my family.
      Really consider trying medication for 6 months and be prepared to having to try a few (sometimes the first one you try works out, sometimes you have to go through several to find one that doesn't have side-effects). What could it hurt to try it for half a year? You can always taper back off the meds after that time if you don't like it. But I can almost guarantee that even if you go off, it won't take long before you or the people around you notice a difference, and it could really change your life.
      Therapy is also really helpful if you are open and willing.

      February 28, 2011 at 03:33 | Report abuse |
  27. Common Sense

    Thank you for the feedback, I think I might consider it

    March 1, 2011 at 01:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Common Sense

    I'm at the point where I just have nothing else that I can do to try and get through it.

    March 1, 2011 at 01:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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