Prevent post-traumatic stress disorder using the body’s own gene
Endogenous regulation of a particular gene is associated with a reduced risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Traumatic experiences such as accidents can be deeply rooted in a person’s memory and cause symptoms like this even years later. In particular, traumatic memories of the experience are less severe. Researchers at the University of Basel have carried out a study on this and published their results in the journal PNAS.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The stress hormone cortisol plays an important role in regulating these memory processes, as a number of studies have shown. The research team carried out the study under the direction of Professor Dominique de Quervain at the University of Basel. In their current project, the scientists took a closer look at the genes involved in cortisol signal transmission. Above all, they determine the extent to which these genes are subject to chemical regulation by methyl groups on the DNA molecule. Vanja Vukojevic, one of the lead authors of the study, analyzed DNA methylation in two groups of people affected by trauma. It was about 463 survivors of the Ugandan civil war and 350 survivors of the genocide in Rwanda.
In both groups, those who showed stronger regulation of the NTRK2 gene had a lower risk of developing PTSD. The researchers were also able to rule out with a high degree of certainty that the trauma itself led to an altered regulation of this gene. So they found no connection between the severity of the trauma and the extent of DNA methylation. This suggests that the latter existed before the traumatic experience. Several fundamental studies have already shown that the NTRK2 gene plays a key role in memory formation.
In the current study, people with a stronger regulation of this gene had fewer traumatic memories. However, the researchers also found that the mechanism for regulating DNA methylation on the NTRK2 gene is also related to memory in 568 non-traumatized individuals. Those with more methylation of the gene performed worse when it came to remembering pictures they’d seen before. During the tests, they also showed altered brain activity in regions that are important for memory. These results suggest that increased regulation of the NTRK2 gene decreases memory formation.
As a result, traumatic experiences are not so firmly anchored in the memory. In addition, it can reduce the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers hope that this mechanism will help develop new therapies that can also be helpful for existing PTSD. This can prevent recurring unpleasant memories from further strengthening the traumatic memory.
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