Rwandan Genocide Victims Shed Light on Development of Post Traumatic Stress

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

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jim


    March 2nd, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Cannot even begin to imagine the horrors that the people of this country have had to go through. Makes me feel so fortunate to have the life that I do. I can only hope that the Rwandan people will come out of this event stronger for it and that the appropriate treatment will make it soon to those who need it the most. This part of the world is in my thoughts and prayers every day.

  • edward rinels

    edward rinels

    March 2nd, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    although this study has found that some people experience PSTD more than others due to a bilogical reason, I do not think it actually contributes to the issue. its not like we can change the biological setup of an individual to prevent them from PSTD…so where exactly is the benefit??

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