Researchers at Yale and elsewhere previously identified a host of genetic risk factors that help explain why some veterans are especially susceptible to the debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A new Yale-led study published Oct. 1 in the journal Biological Psychiatry has now identified a social factor that can mitigate these genetic risks: the ability to form loving and trusting relationships with others.
The study is one of the first to explore the role of nurture as well as nature in its investigation of the biological basis of PTSD.
“We exist in a context. We are more than our genes,” said Yale’s Robert H. Pietrzak, associate professor of psychiatry and public health, and senior author of the study.
Pietrzak is also director of the Translational Psychiatric Epidemiology Laboratory of the Clinical Neurosciences Division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD.
Being traumatized can cause what are known as dissociative symptoms — such as experiencing amnesia, an out-of-body experience, feeling emotionally numb — which may help people cope. Experiencing these symptoms intensely or for a long time, however, can negatively impact an individual’s ability to function.
A team led by investigators at McLean Hospital has now found that brain imaging analyses can uncover changes in functional connections between brain regions linked to a specific individual’s dissociative symptoms following trauma. The findings, which have been published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, may be useful for tailoring treatments for affected patients.
For the study, the researchers applied a novel machine-learning (artificial intelligence) technique to functional magnetic resonance imaging tests of 65 women with histories of childhood abuse and current post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The technique, developed by one of the lead authors, Meiling Li, PhD, from Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical