It looks like child abuse does more than leave physical and emotional scarring: It changes its victims on a genetic level.
A study of adult civilians with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) has shown that individuals with a history of childhood abuse have distinct, profound changes in gene activity patterns, compared to adults with PTSD but without a history of child abuse.
A team of researchers from Atlanta and Munich probed blood samples from 169 participants in the Grady Trauma Project, a study of more than 5000 Atlanta residents with high levels of exposure to violence, physical and sexual abuse and with high risk for civilian PTSD.
The results were published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Early Edition.
“These are some of the most robust findings to date showing that different biological pathways may describe different subtypes of a psychiatric disorder, which appear similar at the level of symptoms but may be very different at the level of underlying biology,” says Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and Yerkes National Primate Research Center.