Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Common genetic and environmental contributions to post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence in young women

C. E. Sartora1 c1, V. V. McCutcheona1, N. E. Pommera1, E. C. Nelsona1, J. D. Granta1, A. E. Duncana1, M. Waldrona1a2, K. K. Bucholza1, P. A. F. Maddena1 and A. C. Heatha1

a1 Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO, USA

a2 Indiana University School of Education, Bloomington, IN, USA


Background The few genetically informative studies to examine post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependence (AD), all of which are based on a male veteran sample, suggest that the co-morbidity between PTSD and AD may be attributable in part to overlapping genetic influences, but this issue has yet to be addressed in females.

Method Data were derived from an all-female twin sample (n=3768) ranging in age from 18 to 29 years. A trivariate genetic model that included trauma exposure as a separate phenotype was fitted to estimate genetic and environmental contributions to PTSD and the degree to which they overlap with those that contribute to AD, after accounting for potential confounding effects of heritable influences on trauma exposure.

Results Additive genetic influences (A) accounted for 72% of the variance in PTSD; individual-specific environmental (E) factors accounted for the remainder. An AE model also provided the best fit for AD, for which heritability was estimated to be 71%. The genetic correlation between PTSD and AD was 0.54.

Conclusions The heritability estimate for PTSD in our sample is higher than estimates reported in earlier studies based almost exclusively on an all-male sample in which combat exposure was the precipitating traumatic event. However, our findings are consistent with the absence of evidence for shared environmental influences on PTSD and, most importantly, the substantial overlap in genetic influences on PTSD and AD reported in these investigations. Additional research addressing potential distinctions by gender in the relative contributions of genetic and environmental influences on PTSD is merited.

(Received June 20 2010)

(Revised September 23 2010)

(Accepted September 25 2010)

(Online publication November 08 2010)