Impact of Traumatic Life Events on Psychotic-like Experiences gene explained

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The Influence of Trauma and Psychotic Experiences on Genetics

A majority of people experience some level of trauma in their lifetime. In fact, half of all women will experience at least one major traumatic event, while more than half of men will, too. When experienced, especially in numerous occurrences, trauma over a lifetime can have an impact on your genetics.

Sure, our children, grandchildren, and future generations are influenced, somehow, by the genes, we pass down to them. 

While some traits are inherently good, others, like trauma and psychotic experiences and disorders, can negatively impact our way of life, and possibly, theirs, too. 

Let’s further define trauma and psychotic experiences and discuss how our genes could play a role in their makeup in more detail. 

What is trauma?

In the most basic sense, trauma is an emotional response to a negative event such as physical, emotional, sexual, or verbal abuse. 

Immediately following a trauma event, a person can go through stages of shock and denial. 

More long-term feelings and experiences may include:

What Are Psychotic-Like Experiences?

Often referred to as psychosis or psychotic-like episodes (PLEs), these experiences are subclinical delusions and hallucinations affecting 5% to 10% of the general population.

Unlike a reoccurring mental health disorder, PLEs can be isolated instances that randomly affect someone without returning. 

Although they affect everyone differently, they are most often classified by the existence of hallucinations or delusional thoughts. 

It is important to note that even though hallucinations and delusions are characteristics of schizophrenia and other mental health conditions, they are only considered to be a symptom of a more significant mental illness if the person is experiencing other signs of the condition.

Can Traumatic Life Experiences and PLEs Change Your Genetic Makeup?

The short answer is yes.

Many recent studies have focused on gene-environment interactions in developing numerous mental disorders, including schizophrenia. 

A recent cross-national analysis based on more than 31,000 respondents in 18 counties estimated the prevalence rate of psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) at 7.2%. 

Moreover, it has been reported that individuals exposed to childhood trauma (especially emotional or sexual abuse) are more likely to experience PLEs.     

Exposure to acute and chronic stress alters the proper functioning of the main stress hormone system—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It activates a cascade of biological interactions that increase the risk of psychosis.1

One gene in particular is known to impact stress response (FKBP5 gene). Researchers investigated the influence of the six polymorphisms in the FKBP5 gene on the association between the level of psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) and lifetime exposure to stress in the 535 individuals aged 18 to 30 recruited from university students.2

The Traumatic Events Checklist (TEC) was implemented to assess a history of TLEs such as: 

Physical abuse and bullying were evaluated with the item: “When you were a child or teenager, did you experience physical abuse (e.g., tormenting, beating, psychically hurting) from your parents, brothers or sisters or peers?”. 

In screening for psychosis risk and the presence of PLEs, the self-report questionnaire PQ-16 was implemented.  It consists of nine perceptual abnormalities/hallucinations subscale items, five items referring to unusual thought content/delusional ideas/paranoia, and two negative symptoms. 

The level of distress associated with experiencing PLEs (the PQ-16 score) was used as the outcome variable. 

The study found that some with a specific gene and history of PA was associated with higher PQ-16 scores. Yet those with other genetics didn’t see the same correlations.3 All in all they found that physical abuse tends to make psychosis more likely regardless of genetics.     

The present study has several limitations, including the fact that only six variants were examined.

How Do I Know If My Trauma or PLEs Have Affected My Genes?

DNA analysis might be the best way to determine how trauma or psychotic experiences have translated into your genetics.

A DNA testing kit is simple to use. Your genetic DNA testing results can reveal many answers to your questions about the effect of trauma on a deeper, more personal level.

After taking an at-home DNA test, you can use your raw DNA file to analyze your genetic profile more closely.

Simply sign in to the Genomelink dashboard to upload your DNA file, and our experts will do the rest. Don’t wait another day; Unlock your full genetic potential today!

1The HPA axis response can be modulated by the FK-506 binding protein 5, encoded by the FKBP5 gene located on chromosome 6p21. The FKBP5 gene contains several polymorphic sites that may affect stress response and thus a risk of psychosis.

2They studied polymorphisms, including rs1360780 and rs9296158.

3the rs1360780 CC homozygotes, a history of PA was associated with significantly higher PQ-16 scores than CC homozygotes without a history of PA. 

However, this difference was not significant in the rs1360780 T allele carriers. Similar findings were observed for the rs9296158 polymorphism. Indeed, a history of PA was associated with significantly higher PQ-16 scores in the rs9296158 GG homozygotes compared with GG homozygotes without a history of PA. 

The trend was not significant in the rs9296158 A-allele carriers. 

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