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
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University