Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characterized by debilitating flashbacks that can come on suddenly in individuals who have experienced extremely traumatic events. Several Swiss researchers conducted a study to determine if those who had certain gene variants, which facilitate superior memory, would increase the likelihood that someone would suffer from PTSD.
Everyone’s memory is slightly different but some people are able to recall events in vivid detail. This can be an incredibly useful skill when it comes to academics or general abilities but as one could imagine the propensity toward perfect recall is not an advantage when it comes to negative or painful experiences.
Many PTSD suffers will report feeling as though they are constantly reliving the painful experience. This study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, assessed 700 mentally healthy Swiss adults in its first phase. They looked at the subjects’ ability to recall photos 10 minutes after having viewed them. This skill is related to certain genetic variations, which have been determined to play a role in something called “emotional memory.” They then studied 400 additional subjects using an MRI brain scan. Researchers found a connection between certain gene variants and the brain activity that is related to storing memories.
In the second phase, the study evaluated survivors of the Rwandan genocide that were housed in a refugee camp. Approximately 350 members of the camp provided DNA samples and were interviewed to determine if they had PTSD. It turned out that while all of the study participants had personally experienced heinous crimes against them, only 40% were diagnosed with PTSD.
It was not clear how these gene patterns were actually connected to memory and the researchers cautioned that the data is still in the very early stages. It does seem that the information, which was gathered from diverse genetic populations, can be applied fairly broadly.
Understanding how memory plays a role in the development of PTSD may help practitioners to comprehend why certain people are more prone to the mental health condition and may even have implications in the management and treatment of the disorder.
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