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Gene associated with high anxiety can have protective effect on the battlefield
Date:2/13/2013

archers designed a study of 1,100 new infantry recruits to the IDF. Each participant underwent testing first at the time of recruitment, again after basic training, and finally six months into their deployment in a conflict zone. Several major vulnerability and resilience factors were measured: self-reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD; threat-related attention bias; combat exposure; and genetic markers that indicate a tendency towards anxiety.

The researchers noticed that where computer-based testing revealed a strong vigilance towards threats during deployment, the soldier was much less likely to develop PTSD. That discovery corresponded to significant genetic findings about the serotonin transporter gene, which plays a key role in the control of serotonin availability in the brain and modulates important psychological functions such as mood, appetite, and sleep. It has three variants short/short, short/long and long/long. The short/short variant of the gene is associated with enhanced threat vigilance and a higher incidence of anxiety and depression in everyday conditions. But in war zones, soldiers who carried the short/short variant of the gene were actually at an advantage, since their attuned attention towards threat protected them from developing PTSD in traumatic situations.

Re-training the mind

In the persistent conflict in Israel, rates of PTSD symptoms are at approximately six to seven percent. For soldiers serving in active war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan, the rate is much higher and could reach up to 20 percent, reports Prof. Bar-Haim. He commends the IDF and US Army for their commitment to finding a solution. "They are on the front line of science in trying to understand risk and resilience factors," he says.

Identifying this protective factor is a first step towards preventative treatment, Prof. Bar-Haim reports. Teaching soldiers to be more sensitive to threats prior to deployment could
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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