Research to identify a genetic (hereditary) cause for posttraumatic stress disorder is ongoing. Several studies are focused on locating genes that play a part in how frightening memories are formed. By developing a better understanding of precisely how fearful memories are created and stored, researchers hope to discover better ways to treat PTSD and reduce symptoms of posttraumatic stress.

It’s likely that—as with other mental health conditions—several genes contribute to PTSD. Possible genetic links to posttraumatic stress disorder include the following:

  • Stathmin (protein used by the brain to develop memories in response to fear)—A study involving mice showed that animals that did not produce this substance in response to danger were less likely to "freeze"—a normal protective response— when exposed to a frightening experience. These mice also explored open spaces more readily than mice producing normal amounts of stathmin.
  • Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP; chemical released in the brain during emotional events)—Studies in mice show that GRP helps to control fear responses and a reduced levels of the chemical leads to greater and longer-lasting fear memories.
  • 5-HTTLPR gene—scientists discovered a version of this gene, which controls levels of serotonin (chemical in the brain related to mood), that may increase the fear response

Recent advances in posttraumatic stress disorder research have led to a greater understanding of PTSD than in the past. Due to this progress, mental health care professionals can now focus on the important goal of preventing PTSD.

Genetic research and brain imaging technologies can help determine precisely when PTSD begins and where in the brain the disorder originates. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), some researchers are developing medications to target underlying causes of posttraumatic stress disorder and others are looking for ways to increase protective factors and reduce PTSD risk factors in people who have experienced major trauma.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 28 May 2014

Last Modified: 29 May 2014