Abused Children May Get Unique Form of PTSD

Child abuse scars not just the brain and body, but, according to the latest research, but may leave its mark on genes as well. The research, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that abused children who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience a biologically distinct form of the disorder from PTSD caused by other types of trauma later in life. “The main aim of our study was to address the question of whether patients with same clinical diagnosis but different early environments have the same underlying biology,” says Divya Mehta, corresponding author of the study and a postdoctoral student at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany.   To find out, Mehta’s team studied blood cells from 169 people in Atlanta who were participating in the Grady Trauma Project.  Most were in their late 30s to mid 40s and were African American; some had been abused as children but all had suffered at least two other significant traumatic events, such as being held at gun- or knife point, having a major car accident or being raped. On average, the participants experienced seven major traumas. Despite these events, however, the majority were resilient: 108 participants never developed PTSD. Among the 61 that did, 32 had been abused as children and 29 had not.  The authors examined their blood cells, looking for genetic changes that distinguished people with the disorder who had been abused from those who had not. To focus on changes associated with PTSD diagnosis rather than trauma exposure alone, they looked for differences not seen in the resilient group. MORE: How Child Abuse Primes the Brain for Future Mental Illness These genetic alterations are known as epigenetic changes: chemical differences that don’t mutate the DNA itself but affect how actively and efficiently the genes are made into proteins. By either silencing or activating genes, epigenetic changes can influence everything from brain development and functioning to the risk for certain diseases. While not necessarily permanent, some of these changes can last a … Continue reading Abused Children May Get Unique Form of PTSD