While the connection between experiencing a distressing event and subsequently developing PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, might seem to be fairly clear, researchers have been unsure about exactly how and why the brain reacts certain ways to trauma. One of the most pressing questions in this area has asked why, within groups of people exposed to the same stimulus, some people develop symptoms of the psychological concern, while other do not. Suggestions been made in a wide range of schools of thought about the functioning of the brain and the human consciousness, but recently a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry has found that a major factor in determining who gets PTSD may be entirely genetic.
The study focused on a group of survivors of the Rwandan Genocide, a mass killing that took place over the course of one hundred days in 1994. During this remarkably violent period, an estimated twenty percent of the country’s inhabitants were murdered, leaving many families torn apart, and many survivors shaken. Genetic samples of each participant were analyzed in relation to the activity of an enzyme responsible for inhibiting dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters present in the brain when stress is experienced.
Those participants who, due to a genetic predisposition, exhibited normal enzyme function were found to have a lower instance of the development of PTSD than those who were indicated for decreased enzyme function, which allowed for greater neurotransmitter presence. The molecular genetics study has been hailed as a significant step towards more accurately predicting who is at a high risk of suffering psychological damage from stress and trauma, an advance that may help therapists deliver more precise and preventive care to their clients.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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