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Childhood adversities (CAs) predict heightened risks of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive episode (MDE) among people exposed to adult traumatic events. Identifying which CAs put individuals at greatest risk for these adverse posttraumatic neuropsychiatric sequelae (APNS) is important for targeting prevention interventions.
Data came from n = 999 patients ages 18–75 presenting to 29 U.S. emergency departments after a motor vehicle collision (MVC) and followed for 3 months, the amount of time traditionally used to define chronic PTSD, in the Advancing Understanding of Recovery After Trauma (AURORA) study. Six CA types were self-reported at baseline: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect and bullying. Both dichotomous measures of ever experiencing each CA type and numeric measures of exposure frequency were included in the analysis. Risk ratios (RRs) of these CA measures as well as complex interactions among these measures were examined as predictors of APNS 3 months post-MVC. APNS was defined as meeting self-reported criteria for either PTSD based on the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 and/or MDE based on the PROMIS Depression Short-Form 8b. We controlled for pre-MVC lifetime histories of PTSD and MDE. We also examined mediating effects through peritraumatic symptoms assessed in the emergency department and PTSD and MDE assessed in 2-week and 8-week follow-up surveys. Analyses were carried out with robust Poisson regression models.
Most participants (90.9%) reported at least rarely having experienced some CA. Ever experiencing each CA other than emotional neglect was univariably associated with 3-month APNS (RRs = 1.31–1.60). Each CA frequency was also univariably associated with 3-month APNS (RRs = 1.65–2.45). In multivariable models, joint associations of CAs with 3-month APNS were additive, with frequency of emotional abuse (RR = 2.03; 95% CI = 1.43–2.87) and bullying (RR = 1.44; 95% CI = 0.99–2.10) being the strongest predictors. Control variable analyses found that these associations were largely explained by pre-MVC histories of PTSD and MDE.
Although individuals who experience frequent emotional abuse and bullying in childhood have a heightened risk of experiencing APNS after an adult MVC, these associations are largely mediated by prior histories of PTSD and MDE.
Racial and ethnic groups in the USA differ in the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent research however has not observed consistent racial/ethnic differences in posttraumatic stress in the early aftermath of trauma, suggesting that such differences in chronic PTSD rates may be related to differences in recovery over time.
As part of the multisite, longitudinal AURORA study, we investigated racial/ethnic differences in PTSD and related outcomes within 3 months after trauma. Participants (n = 930) were recruited from emergency departments across the USA and provided periodic (2 weeks, 8 weeks, and 3 months after trauma) self-report assessments of PTSD, depression, dissociation, anxiety, and resilience. Linear models were completed to investigate racial/ethnic differences in posttraumatic dysfunction with subsequent follow-up models assessing potential effects of prior life stressors.
Racial/ethnic groups did not differ in symptoms over time; however, Black participants showed reduced posttraumatic depression and anxiety symptoms overall compared to Hispanic participants and White participants. Racial/ethnic differences were not attenuated after accounting for differences in sociodemographic factors. However, racial/ethnic differences in depression and anxiety were no longer significant after accounting for greater prior trauma exposure and childhood emotional abuse in White participants.
The present findings suggest prior differences in previous trauma exposure partially mediate the observed racial/ethnic differences in posttraumatic depression and anxiety symptoms following a recent trauma. Our findings further demonstrate that racial/ethnic groups show similar rates of symptom recovery over time. Future work utilizing longer time-scale data is needed to elucidate potential racial/ethnic differences in long-term symptom trajectories.
This is the first report on the association between trauma exposure and depression from the Advancing Understanding of RecOvery afteR traumA(AURORA) multisite longitudinal study of adverse post-traumatic neuropsychiatric sequelae (APNS) among participants seeking emergency department (ED) treatment in the aftermath of a traumatic life experience.
We focus on participants presenting at EDs after a motor vehicle collision (MVC), which characterizes most AURORA participants, and examine associations of participant socio-demographics and MVC characteristics with 8-week depression as mediated through peritraumatic symptoms and 2-week depression.
Eight-week depression prevalence was relatively high (27.8%) and associated with several MVC characteristics (being passenger v. driver; injuries to other people). Peritraumatic distress was associated with 2-week but not 8-week depression. Most of these associations held when controlling for peritraumatic symptoms and, to a lesser degree, depressive symptoms at 2-weeks post-trauma.
These observations, coupled with substantial variation in the relative strength of the mediating pathways across predictors, raises the possibility of diverse and potentially complex underlying biological and psychological processes that remain to be elucidated in more in-depth analyses of the rich and evolving AURORA database to find new targets for intervention and new tools for risk-based stratification following trauma exposure.
Psychological stress is associated with accelerated cellular aging and increased risk for aging-related diseases, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are unclear.
We examined the effect of stress on a DNA methylation age predictor that was shown to correlate strongly with chronological age across human tissues (Horvath 2013). Genome-wide DNA methylation was measured in peripheral blood using the 450K Illumina array in three independent cohorts: the Grady Trauma Project/GTP (N=366); a panic disorder case/control sample recruited at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry/MPI-P (N=318); and the Conte Center for the Psychobiology of Early-Life Trauma/Conte (N=42). Age acceleration was calculated by subtracting chronological age from age predicted by DNA methylation. Psychiatric symptomatology and stressors were assessed using standard questionnaires.
DNA methylation age strongly correlated with chronological age in all samples (r=0.9, p=2.5x10<sup>-133</sup>). Cumulative lifetime stress but not childhood or current stress predicted age acceleration in GTP (p=0.012) and MPI-P (p=0.021). Moreover, epigenetic age acceleration predicted depression (GTP: p=0.002; Conte: p=0.014) and panic disorder (p=0.007). In secondary analyses, we examined the effect of lifetime stress on individual CpGs of the DNA methylation age predictor. After correcting for multiple comparisons, we identified in both GTP and MPI-P a stress-regulated CpG near MCAM, a gene implicated in aging-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancers.
Cumulative lifetime stress, but not childhood or current stress, and psychiatric phenotypes are associated with accelerated epigenetic aging. Our findings may explain the accelerated cellular aging and increased disease risk associated with chronic stress and psychiatric disorders.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in a minority of traumatized individuals. Attention biases to threat and abnormalities in fear learning and extinction are processes likely to play a critical role in the creation and/or maintenance of PTSD symptomatology. However, the relationship between these processes has not been established, particularly in highly traumatized populations; understanding their interaction can help inform neural network models and treatments for PTSD.
Attention biases were measured using a dot probe task modified for use with our population; task stimuli included photographs of angry facial expressions, which are emotionally salient threat signals. A fear-potentiated startle paradigm was employed to measure atypical physiological response during acquisition and extinction phases of fear learning. These measures were administered to a sample of 64 minority (largely African American), highly traumatized individuals with and without PTSD.
Participants with PTSD demonstrated attention biases toward threat; this attentional style was associated with exaggerated startle response during fear learning and early and middle phases of extinction, even after accounting for the effects of trauma exposure.
Our findings indicate that an attentional bias toward threat is associated with abnormalities in ‘fear load’ in PTSD, providing seminal evidence for an interaction between these two processes. Future research combining these behavioral and psychophysiological techniques with neuroimaging will be useful toward addressing how one process may modulate the other and understanding whether these phenomena are manifestations of dysfunction within a shared neural network. Ultimately, this may serve to inform PTSD treatments specifically designed to correct these atypical processes.
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