A deeper understanding of the pathomechanisms leading to stress-related psychiatric disorders is important for the development of more efficient preventive and therapeutic strategies. Epidemiological studies indicate a combined contribution of genetic and environmental factors in the risk for disease. The environment, particularly early life severe stress or trauma, can lead to lifelong molecular changes in the form of epigenetic modifications that can set the organism off on trajectories to health or disease. Epigenetic modifications are capable of shaping and storing the molecular response of a cell to its environment as a function of genetic predisposition. This provides a potential mechanism for gene-environment interactions. Here, we review epigenetic mechanisms associated with the response to stress and trauma exposure and the development of stress-related psychiatric disorders. We also look at how they may contribute to our understanding of the combined effects of genetic and environmental factors in shaping disease risk.
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