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Chapter 8 - How the Spitak Earthquake Contributed to our Understanding of the Genetics of PTSD and Associated Disorders

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2022

Armen Goenjian
David Geffen School of Medicine; UCLA/Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress
Alan Steinberg
UCLA/Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress
Robert Pynoos
UCLA/Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress
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The Spitak earthquake offered a unique opportunity to conduct family studies of the genetics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related conditions, including depression and anxiety. The multigenerational families that participated in the Spitak Earthquake Genetic Study (SEGS) were recruited from the devastated city of Gumri. The participants (3 to 5 generations) were exposed to horrific earthquake-related traumatic experiences contemporaneously. After adjusting for sex, age, and multiple environmental risk factors, the heritability of vulnerability of PTSD (42%) was significant. Additionally, vulnerabilities for depression and anxiety were also significantly heritable. These three phenotypes were genetically correlated, indicating pleiotropy, i.e., they shared genes. Using complex co-variate analyses, we found an association of specific serotonergic genes (THP2 and THP1) and a dopaminergic gene (COMT) with PTSD and a serotonergic gene (5HTTLRP) with depression. These findings suggest that carriers of variants of these genes are at risk for PTSD and depression, respectively. Whole genome sequencing found another interesting gene, OR4C3, among those with PTSD. The gene codes for an olfactory receptor that shares a domain structure with many neurotransmitters. The chapter also discusses recent advances and challenges in genetic research.

Lessons Learned in Disaster Mental Health
The Earthquake in Armenia and Beyond
, pp. 137 - 151
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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