Context: In addition to trauma exposure, other factors contribute to risk for development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adulthood. Both genetic and environmental factors are contributory, with child abuse providing significant risk liability.
Objective: To increase understanding of genetic and environmental risk factors as well as their interaction in the development of PTSD by gene x environment interactions of child abuse, level of non-child abuse trauma exposure, and genetic polymorphisms at the stress-related gene FKBP5.
Design, setting, and participants: A cross-sectional study examining genetic and psychological risk factors in 900 nonpsychiatric clinic patients (762 included for all genotype studies) with significant levels of childhood abuse as well as non-child abuse trauma using a verbally presented survey combined with single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping. Participants were primarily urban, low-income, black (>95%) men and women seeking care in the general medical care and obstetrics-gynecology clinics of an urban public hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, between 2005 and 2007.
Main outcome measures: Severity of adult PTSD symptomatology, measured with the modified PTSD Symptom Scale, non-child abuse (primarily adult) trauma exposure and child abuse measured using the traumatic events inventory and 8 SNPs spanning the FKBP5 locus.
Results: Level of child abuse and non-child abuse trauma each separately predicted level of adult PTSD symptomatology (mean [SD], PTSD Symptom Scale for no child abuse, 8.03 [10.48] vs > or =2 types of abuse, 20.93 [14.32]; and for no non-child abuse trauma, 3.58 [6.27] vs > or =4 types, 16.74 [12.90]; P < .001). Although FKBP5 SNPs did not directly predict PTSD symptom outcome or interact with level of non-child abuse trauma to predict PTSD symptom severity, 4 SNPs in the FKBP5 locus significantly interacted (rs9296158, rs3800373, rs1360780, and rs9470080; minimum P = .0004) with the severity of child abuse to predict level of adult PTSD symptoms after correcting for multiple testing. This gene x environment interaction remained significant when controlling for depression severity scores, age, sex, levels of non-child abuse trauma exposure, and genetic ancestry. This genetic interaction was also paralleled by FKBP5 genotype-dependent and PTSD-dependent effects on glucocorticoid receptor sensitivity, measured by the dexamethasone suppression test.
Conclusions: Four SNPs of the FKBP5 gene interacted with severity of child abuse as a predictor of adult PTSD symptoms. There were no main effects of the SNPs on PTSD symptoms and no significant genetic interactions with level of non-child abuse trauma as predictor of adult PTSD symptoms, suggesting a potential gene-childhood environment interaction for adult PTSD.