Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stress-Related Gene and Child Abuse Can Interact to Raise PTSD Risk

A gene called FKBP5 is an important regulator of the stress hormone system. When individuals who possess a particular variant of that gene are victims of child abuse, they appear to be more susceptible to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) later in life than individuals who possess another variant of the gene. This was a key finding of a study published in Nature Neuroscience, led by Elisabeth Binder of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany.

But how might the FKBP5 gene variant and child abuse interact to set the stage for such later sequelae? By changing DNA methylation in the FKBP5 gene,  Binder and her colleagues found. Such changes, according to other findings from the researchers, could then lead to a long-term dysregulation of the stress hormone system and impact brain areas associated with stress regulation.

Their results, they conclude, "provide insight into the molecular mechanisms and consequences of this gene x environment interaction, facilitating a better understanding of the pathophysiology of stress-related psychiatric disorders...and potentially aiding in the development of new treatments targeting this mechanism."

More information about epigenetics—the process by which genes are altered by the environment—and its influence on psychiatric disorders can be found in Psychiatric News here and here. Also read more on this topic in the American Journal of Psychiatry here.
(Image: Elena Ray/


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