Objective: The development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is influenced by preexisting vulnerability factors. The authors aimed at identifying a preexisting biomarker representing a vulnerability factor for the development of PTSD. To that end, they determined whether the dexamethasone binding capacity of leukocytes, as a measure of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) number, before exposure to trauma was a predictor of development of PTSD symptoms. In addition, the authors analyzed mRNA expression for GR subtypes and GR target genes.
Method: Participants were selected from a large prospective study on deployment-related disorders, in which peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were obtained prior to and 1 and 6 months after military deployment. Participants included armed forces personnel with high levels of PTSD symptoms 6 months after deployment (N=34) and comparison subjects without high levels of PTSD or depressive symptoms (N=34) matched for age, rank, previous deployments, educational level, and function during deployment.
Results: Before military deployment, the GR number in PBMCs was significantly higher in participants who developed high levels of PTSD symptoms after deployment relative to matched comparison subjects. Logistic regression analysis showed that the risk for inclusion in the PTSD group after deployment increased 7.5-fold with each GR increase of 1,000. No group differences were observed in mRNA expression of GR-α, GR-P, GR-β, glucocorticoid-induced leucine zipper (GILZ), serum and glucocorticoid-inducible kinase-1 (SGK-1), and FKBP5. The higher GR number in the PTSD group was maintained at 1 and 6 months after deployment.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that a preexisting high GR number in PBMCs is a vulnerability factor for subsequent development of PTSD symptoms.