The effect of genetic vulnerability and military deployment on the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive symptoms

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2019 Mar;29(3):405-415. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2018.12.009. Epub 2019 Feb 14.


Exposure to trauma strongly increases the risk to develop stress-related psychopathology, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder (MDD). In addition, liability to develop these moderately heritable disorders is partly determined by common genetic variance, which is starting to be uncovered by genome-wide association studies (GWASs). However, it is currently unknown to what extent genetic vulnerability and trauma interact. We investigated whether genetic risk based on summary statistics of large GWASs for PTSD and MDD predisposed individuals to report an increase in MDD and PTSD symptoms in a prospective military cohort (N = 516) at five time points after deployment to Afghanistan: one month, six months and one, two and five years. Linear regression was used to analyze the contribution of polygenic risk scores (PRSs, at multiple p-value thresholds) and their interaction with deployment-related trauma to the development of PTSD- and depression-related symptoms. We found no main effects of PRSs nor evidence for interactions with trauma on the development of PTSD or depressive symptoms at any of the time points in the five years after military deployment. Our results based on a unique long-term follow-up of a deployed military cohort suggest limited validity of current PTSD and MDD polygenic risk scores, albeit in the presence of minimal severe psychopathology in the target cohort. Even though the predictive value of PRSs will likely benefit from larger sample sizes in discovery and target datasets, progress will probably also depend on (endo)phenotype refinement that in turn will reduce etiological heterogeneity.

Keywords: Deployment; Longitudinal; PRS; PTSD; Psychopathology; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afghan Campaign 2001-
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Psychopathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / genetics*
  • Young Adult