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Researchers identify PTSD biomarkers

These genetic networks could be used for predicting PTSD risk.

By
Brooks Hays
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Prall, rifleman with 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment scans the area while crossing a bridge during a partnered security patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers in Helmand Province Afghanistan Dec. 18, 2011. UPI/U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Reece Lodder
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Prall, rifleman with 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment scans the area while crossing a bridge during a partnered security patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers in Helmand Province Afghanistan Dec. 18, 2011. UPI/U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Reece Lodder | License Photo

SAN DIEGO, March 10 (UPI) -- In analyzing blood samples of some 188 U.S. Marines, researchers have located genetic biomarkers linked with post-traumatic stress disorder. The PTSD markers are also associated with gene networks that govern innate immune function and interferon signaling.

Researchers at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and University of California, San Diego School of Medicine say an improved understanding of the gene networks connected with PTSD may help improve diagnosis and treatment of patients dealing with the mental health condition. The same knowledge may also help physicians identify patients who are genetically prone to the development of PTSD.

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Innate immune response is the body's initial line of defense against infection. Interferons are signaling proteins released to instigate an immune response in presence of pathogens.

"What's interesting is that molecular signatures of innate immunity and interferon signaling were identified both after developing PTSD as well as before developing PTSD," Dewleen G. Baker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, said in a press release.

"The question to ask is what's stimulating an interferon response prior to PTSD development," added Baker. "The answer could be any number of factors, ranging from a simple explanation of increased anticipatory stress prior to deployment or more complex scenarios where individuals may have a higher viral load. It's a question for future studies."

The takeaway, for this study, is that interferon signaling networks could be used as a serviceable molecular signature for predicting PTSD risk.

"Since our causal (pre-deployment) and consequential (post-deployment) discoveries are based upon peripheral blood samples," explained co-senior author Christopher H. Woelk, "these results suggest that identifying individuals at risk for PTSD development may be achievable through high-throughput profiling of molecular data."

The study was published online this week in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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