Two related studies released by this week by Geisinger Health System researchers identify specific genetic risks associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and help identify key psychosocial predictors that may lead to PTSD.

Led by Joseph Boscarino, Ph.D., MPH, senior investigator for the Geisinger Center for Health Research, the study titled Association of FKBP5, COMT and CHRNA5 Polymorphisms among Outpatients at Risk for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, finds that individuals with a certain set of "at risk" genes, were at seven times higher risk for PTSD than those without the genes.

"We found that individuals with these 'at risk' genes were more likely to develop PTSD, especially when associated with a higher exposure to traumatic events or greater exposure to childhood adversity," said Dr. Boscarino. "They say what doesn't kill you makes only you stronger, but what we've found is that the opposite may actually be the case if you have the PTSD risk genes."

Boscarino adds that genetic screening individuals for these genetic factors in the future may lead to better post-trauma treatments and genetic counseling related to career options in the military or in the civil services, such as police work or firefighting.

In a related study, Development and Validation of a New PTSD Prediction Tool for Use in Clinical Practice, Dr. Boscarino and his team developed a PTSD prediction tool that can be used in clinical practice after traumatic event exposures. After collecting information from more than 2,300 adults following the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Boscarino's team examined various clinical factors including stressor exposures, psychosocial resources, functional status, depression, suicidal thoughts, PTSD symptoms, and demographics to evaluate different PTSD prediction models.

The team then developed a simple 10-item prediction tool that included core PTSD symptoms, depression symptoms, personal physician status, sleep disturbance, and trauma history. Findings show the tool is highly successful in predicting PTSD following traumatic exposures in different clinical populations, including a sample of chronic pain outpatients and a sample of Level-I trauma patients discharged from Geisinger Clinic.

"Until now there's been no easy-to-use tool to help clinicians rapidly identify PTSD in patients in routine practice or after a traumatic event," said Boscarino. "We now have a 10-step process that can accurately and quickly identify PTSD cases from non-cases and facilitate the most appropriate therapy."

The studies are being presented at The Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 31st Annual Meeting, in New Orleans on March 25 and 26.

Geisinger Health System