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Genetics and Epige­ne­tics of Posttrau­ma­tic Stress Disor­der and its Treatment

Daniela Conrad – Hector Fellow Thomas Elbert

Das Risiko, nach trauma­ti­schen Erfah­run­gen eine Posttrau­ma­ti­sche Belas­tungs­stö­rung (PTBS) zu entwi­ckeln, hängt maßgeb­lich von der Anzahl erleb­ter trauma­ti­scher Ereig­nisse (Trauma-Last) sowie indivi­du­el­len Risiko­fak­to­ren, z.B. geneti­schen Prädis­po­si­tio­nen, ab. Für ein umfas­sen­des Verständ­nis von biolo­gi­schen Fakto­ren, die das Risiko und die Thera­pie von PTBS maßgeb­lich beein­flus­sen, bedarf es der adäqua­ten Quanti­fi­zie­rung der Trauma-Last sowie einer Kombi­na­tion verschie­de­ner metho­di­scher Ansätze.

The risk to develop posttrau­ma­tic stress disor­der (PTSD) depends on the number of trauma­tic events experi­en­ced and indivi­dual risk factors, e.g. genetic predis­po­si­ti­ons. However, to identify causal genetic variants of this polyge­nic disease, trauma exposure needs to be adequa­tely asses­sed. Further­more, previously used candi­date gene and genome-wide studies rarely presen­ted with suffi­ci­ent statis­ti­cal power to detect the margi­nal effects of single genetic markers, making a combi­na­tion with other more suited approa­ches neces­sary. Moreo­ver, prior research indica­ted epige­ne­tic modifi­ca­ti­ons (i.e. biolo­gi­cal mecha­nism influen­cing gene regula­tion and expres­sion) to be risk factors for PTSD and poten­tial predic­tors of treat­ment success.

This docto­ral project, super­vi­sed by Hector Fellow Thomas Elbert, aims to syste­ma­ti­cally inves­ti­gate the inter­play between trauma exposure, genetic pathways and their epige­ne­tic modifi­ca­tion in terms of PTSD develo­p­ment in a large sample of survi­vors of the rebel war between the Lord‘s Resis­tance Army and Ugandan govern­men­tal troops. Further, the impact of genetic markers on PTSD treat­ment success using a trauma-focused therapy approach (Narra­tive Exposure Therapy, NET) is investigated.

A better under­stan­ding of genetic and epige­ne­tic risk and resili­ency factors in the etiology and treat­ment of PTSD will contri­bute in the long run to impro­ved psycho­the­ra­peu­tic and pharma­co­lo­gi­cal treat­ments for PTSD.


Daniela Conrad, Sarah Wilker, Anett Pfeif­fer, Birke Lingen­fel­der, Tracie Ebalu, Hartmut Lanzin­ger, Thomas Elbert, Iris-Tatjana Kolassa & Stephan Kolassa (2017). Does trauma event type matter in the assess­ment of trauma­tic load?, European Journal of Psycho­trau­ma­to­logy, 8:1, 1344079. DOI: 10.1080/20008198.2017.1344079

Gerke, J.*, Koenig, A. M.*, Conrad, D., Doyen-Walde­cker, C., Pauly, M., Gündel, H., ... & Kolassa, I. T. (2018). Child­hood maltre­at­ment as risk factor for lifetime depres­sion: The role of diffe­rent types of experi­en­ces and sensi­tive periods. Mental Health & Preven­tion, 10, 56–65. doi:10.1016/j.mhp.2018.03.002
*These authors contri­bu­ted equally to the manuscript.

Conrad, D., Wilker, S., Schnei­der, A., Karabat­sia­kis, A., Pfeif­fer, A., Lingen­fel­der, B., Freytag, V., Vukoje­vic, V., Vogler, C., Milnik, A., Papas­so­ti­ro­pou­los, A., de Quervain, D., Elbert, T., Kolassa, I.-T. (2018). Integra­ted genetic, epige­ne­tic and gene set enrich­ment analy­ses identify NOTCH as a novel media­tor for PTSD risk after trauma: Results from two indepen­dent African cohorts. Psycho­phy­sio­logy, 2018, e13288. Online publi­ca­tion ahead of print. doi:10.1111/psyp.13288

Conrad, D.*, Schnei­der, A.*, Pfeif­fer, A., Wilker, S., Elbert, T., Kolassa, I.-T. (2018). Stigma­tiza­tion Is associa­ted with increased PTSD risk after trauma­tic stress and diminis­hed likeli­hood of sponta­neous remis­sion – A study with East-African conflict survi­vors. Frontiers in Psych­ia­try, 9, 423. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00423.
*The authors contri­bu­ted equally to this paper.

RR Lyrae stars as tracers of substructure and Galactic archaeology

Schema­tic overview of main research topics of the docto­ral project

Daniela Conrad

Univer­si­tät Konstanz

Stress & Epigenetik

Wie Fische zur Behand­lung posttrau­ma­ti­scher Belas­tungs­stö­run­gen beitragen

Ein inter­dis­zi­pli­nä­res Forschungs­pro­jekt von Prof. Dr. Axel Meyer & Prof. Dr. Thomas Elbert


Betreut durch

Prof. Dr.

Thomas Elbert


Hector Fellow seit 2009