A new study found that people who are currently suffering or face a high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show particular patterns in four biomarkers measurable with a simple blood test. The findings suggest these biomarkers could be used to predict a person’s likelihood of developing PTSD, diagnose the disorder, or monitor the response to treatment.
“Better methods of predicting or screening for PTSD could help to overcome the disorder by identifying individuals at high risk of developing PTSD and providing them with early intervention or prevention strategies. This could potentially reduce the severity of symptoms or prevent the disorder from developing altogether,” said Stacy-Ann Miller, a researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Miller presented the new research at Discover BMB, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, yesterday, March 27.
PTSD can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It is currently diagnosed based on symptoms such as flashbacks, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, negative thoughts, memory problems and avoidance of triggering situations. Since other disorders can have some of these same symptoms, it can be challenging to diagnose PTSD and assess changes in response to treatment.
This research involved over 1,000 service members, and the researchers say it represents the largest prospective study to date to assess PTSD biomarkers.
For the study, researchers analyzed four biomarkers in blood samples from active-duty service members taken before a 10-month deployment, three days after their return and three to six months after their return. The biomarkers have previously been linked to stress, depression, anxiety and mental health disorders.
The markers included: the glycolytic ratio, a measure of how the body breaks down sugar to produce energy; arginine, an amino acid that plays a role in the immune and cardiovascular systems; serotonin, a chemical messenger that helps regulate mood, sleep and other functions; and glutamate, a chemical messenger that plays a role in learning and memory.
Service members were divided into groups based on measures of PTSD and mental resilience. The four biomarkers were compared among the different groups. Participants were classified as having PTSD, subthreshold PTSD, or no PTSD depending on their clinical diagnosis and PTSD symptoms.
The results showed that those with PTSD or subthreshold PTSD had significantly higher glycolytic ratio and lower arginine than those with high resilience. People with PTSD also had significantly lower serotonin and higher glutamate than those with high resilience. These associations were independent of factors such as gender, age, body mass index, smoking, and caffeine consumption.
“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,” said Miller. “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.”
Researchers cautioned that more research and validation would be needed to confirm the biomarkers’ utility in real-world settings.
The research was conducted in collaboration with the PTSD Systems Biology Consortium, a network of government and academic laboratories.