Evidence is mounting that traumatic experiences can have such a profound impact on people, they may even influence genetic expression.
Tania L. Roth, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of Delaware, provides an interesting review on how epigenetic mechanisms can have a long-term effect on the brain and behavior. Such mechanisms belong to a class of molecular mechanisms by which environmental influences, including stress, can interact with the human genome.
Alterations to the genome can play in role in mental disorders, especially post-traumatic stress disorder, given that the condition requires exposure to a traumatic effect, and genes are sensitive to stress and trauma, Roth wrote in Frontiers in Psychiatry.
For example, she explored several studies discussing DNA methyation, a biochemical process by which the genome’s expression can be altered, and how that process is tied to PTSD. Examining DNA methylation can not only be a useful biological market for diagnosing PTSD, but also a predictor of treatment outcomes.
"Together, data presented in these […] articles are consistent with the notion that epigenetic programming early in life confers an enhanced risk on disease development upon re-exposure to trauma or stress,” Roth wrote.
Epigenetic mechanisms are a class of molecular mechanisms by which environmental influences, including stress, can interact with the genome to have long-term consequences for brain plasticity and behavior.
As PTSD, by definition, requires exposure to a traumatic event, and because genes are exquisitely sensitive to stress and trauma, epigenetic alterations have received attention as possible contributors to the development and persistence of PTSD symptoms.