DNA methylation levels are associated with CRF1 receptor antagonist treatment outcome in women with post-traumatic stress disorder

Clin Epigenetics. 2018 Nov 3;10(1):136. doi: 10.1186/s13148-018-0569-x.


Background: We have previously evaluated the efficacy of the CRF1 receptor antagonist GSK561679 in female PTSD patients. While GSK561679 was not superior to placebo overall, it was associated with a significantly stronger symptom reduction in a subset of patients with probable CRF system hyperactivity, i.e., patients with child abuse and CRHR1 SNP rs110402 GG carriers. Here, we test whether blood-based DNA methylation levels within CRHR1 and other PTSD-relevant genes would be associated with treatment outcome, either overall or in the high CRF activity subgroup.

Results: Therefore, we measured CRHR1 genotypes as well as baseline and post-treatment DNA methylation from the peripheral blood in the same cohort of PTSD-diagnosed women treated with GSK561679 (N = 43) or placebo (N = 45). In the same patients, we assessed DNA methylation at the PTSD-relevant genes NR3C1 and FKBP5, shown to predict or associate with PTSD treatment outcome after psychotherapy. We observed significant differences in CRHR1 methylation after GSK561679 treatment in the subgroup of patients with high CRF activity. Furthermore, NR3C1 baseline methylation significantly interacted with child abuse to predict PTSD symptom change following GSK561679 treatment.

Conclusions: Our results support a possible role of CRHR1 methylation levels as an epigenetic marker to track response to CRF1 antagonist treatment in biologically relevant subgroups. Moreover, pre-treatment NR3C1 methylation levels may serve as a potential marker to predict PTSD treatment outcome, independent of the type of therapy. However, to establish clinical relevance of these markers, our findings require replication and validation in larger studies.

Trial registration: NCT01018992 . Registered 6 November 2009.

Keywords: CRF1 receptor antagonist; CRHR1; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; FKBP5; NR3C1; PTSD.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Azabicyclo Compounds / administration & dosage*
  • Azabicyclo Compounds / therapeutic use
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxadiazoles / administration & dosage*
  • Oxadiazoles / therapeutic use
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Receptors, Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics*
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / genetics
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Azabicyclo Compounds
  • NBI 77860
  • NR3C1 protein, human
  • Oxadiazoles
  • Receptors, Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • CRF receptor type 1
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins
  • tacrolimus binding protein 5

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01018992