Title

Psychological resilience and the gene regulatory impact of posttraumatic stress in Nepali child soldiers

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

7-19-2016

Journal

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Volume

113

Issue

29

DOI

10.1073/pnas.1601301113

Keywords

Biocultural anthropology; Child abuse; Global mental health; Low-income countries; Social genomics

Abstract

Adverse social conditions in early life have been linked to increased expression of proinflammatory genes and reduced expression of antiviral genes in circulating immune cells-the conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA). However, it remains unclear whether such effects are specific to the Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) cultural environments in which previous research has been conducted. To assess the roles of early adversity and individual psychological resilience in immune system gene regulation within a non-WEIRD population, we evaluated CTRA gene-expression profiles in 254 former child soldiers and matched noncombatant civilians 5 y after the People's War in Nepal. CTRA gene expression was up-regulated in former child soldiers. These effects were linked to the degree of experienced trauma and associated distress-that is, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) severity-more than to child soldier status per se. Self-perceived psychological resilience was associated with marked buffering of CTRA activation such that PTSD-affected former child soldiers with high levels of personal resilience showed molecular profiles comparable to those of PTSD-free civilians. These results suggest that CTRA responses to early life adversity are not restricted to WEIRD cultural contexts and they underscore the key role of resilience in determining the molecular impact of adverse environments.

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