A new study involving over 1,000 military service members found that those who had or were at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder showed differences in four biomarkers linked to other mental health conditions.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur in people who have witnessed one or more traumatic events. It can also impact those who have experienced emotional or physical abuse.
Although it can affect anyone, PTSD is often associated with active-duty military personnel and combat veterans. In general, someone with PTSD may experience excessive fear, flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and sleep disruptions.
For a person entering the military, knowing if they are at high risk for developing PTSD before they are deployed could help develop strategies to prevent it. And looking for specific biomarkers in a simple blood test would be a convenient way to do this.
Previous research has identified biomarkers linked to mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Now, a new study from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has identified four biomarkers in people who have PTSD or are at risk for the condition.
Walter Reed researcher Stacy-Ann Miller presented the research at the annual American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting held March 25 to 28 in Seattle.
To conduct the study, scientists examined four biomarkers linked to stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders in blood samples from 1,000 active-duty service members. The team took the samples before a 10-month deployment, three days after participants returned, and three to six months after returning.
The biomarkers examined included arginine, serotonin, glutamate, and the glycolytic ratio.
Then, the team divided the participants into three groups based on differing levels of PTSD and mental resilience and compared the biomarkers among the groups.
After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, body mass index, smoking, and caffeine intake, the scientists found that service members with PTSD or sub-clinical PTSD showed higher glycolytic ratios and lower arginine than individuals with high resilience.
In addition, participants with PTSD also had higher glutamate and lower serotonin than those with high mental resilience.
The researchers say these findings could have clinical implications for assessing pre-deployment risk factors for PTSD.
"Improved methods of screening and predicting PTSD could inform better treatment approaches by providing a deeper understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of the disorder," says Miller in a news release. "This could lead to the development of more targeted and effective treatments for PTSD or to identify specific subtypes of PTSD, which may respond differently to different treatments."
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