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Genetics hold promise of predicting long-term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) outcomes following trauma. The aim of the current study was to test whether six hypothesized polygenic risk scores (PRSs) developed to capture genetic vulnerability to psychiatric conditions prospectively predict PTSD onset, severity, and 18-year course after trauma exposure.
Participants were 1490 responders to the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster (mean age at 9/11 = 38.81 years, s.d. = 8.20; 93.5% male; 23.8% lifetime WTC-related PTSD diagnosis). Prospective longitudinal data on WTC-related PTSD symptoms were obtained from electronic medical records and modelled as PTSD trajectories using growth mixture model analysis. Independent regression models tested whether six hypothesized psychiatric PRSs (PTSD-PRS, Re-experiencing-PRS, Generalized Anxiety-PRS, Schizophrenia-PRS, Depression-PRS, and Neuroticism-PRS) are predictive of WTC-PTSD outcomes: lifetime diagnoses, average symptom severity, and 18-year symptom trajectory. All analyses were adjusted for population stratification, 9/11 exposure severity, and multiple testing.
Depression-PRS predicted PTSD diagnostic status (OR 1.37, CI 1.17–1.61, adjusted p = 0.001). All PRSs, except PTSD-PRS, significantly predicted average PTSD symptoms (β = 0.06–0.10, adjusted p < 0.05). Re-experiencing-PRS, Generalized Anxiety-PRS and Schizophrenia-PRS predicted the high severity PTSD trajectory class (ORs 1.21–1.28, adjusted p < 0.05). Finally, PRSs prediction was independent of 9/11 exposure severity and jointly accounted for 3.7 times more variance in PTSD symptoms than the exposure severity.
Psychiatric PRSs prospectively predicted WTC-related PTSD lifetime diagnosis, average symptom severity, and 18-year trajectory in responders to 9/11 disaster. Jointly, PRSs were more predictive of subsequent PTSD than the exposure severity. In the future, PRSs may help identify at-risk responders who might benefit from targeted prevention approaches.
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