A stressful event — like being in a car accident, an abusive relationship, or a war — can actually “get under your skin” and change your DNA, says Monica Uddin, a molecular epidemiologist with the University of Michigan.
Uddin’s team studied a group of Detroit residents with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and compared their brain chemistry to a set of non-PTSD adults. They found chemical tracers on DNA sequences, particularly those related to the immune system. Participants with PTSD had detectably different levels of a particular chemical than those without the disorder.
“Our findings suggest that those with PTSD have immune systems that may be in overdrive or overactive in some way,” Uddin told Discovery News. She said the study helps shed light on the idea that mental disorders such as PTSD are not all in one’s head, as some scientists previously believed.
“The evidence that we ere able to provide through this study is that an externally experienced traumatic event … can actually work its way under the skin and get translated into adverse physical and mental consequences,” she said.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can show up after you’ve experienced a horrible event like abuse or a natural disaster. Uddin said about 17 percent of the American population is living with the disorder right now. She told Discovery News that this new research could potentially lead to more effective drug treatments.
“It is theoretically possible that these signatures could one day serve as targets for pharmacologic intervention, if additional validation studies of our findings hold up,” she said.
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