Attachment style moderates polygenic risk for posttraumatic stress in United States military veterans: Results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study

Published: September 30, 2020 Journal of Biological Psychiatry


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Polygenic risk scores (PRS) derived from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may inform risk for this disorder. To date, however, no known study has examined whether social environmental factors such as attachment style may moderate the relation between PRS and PTSD.


We evaluated main and interactive effects of PRS and attachment style on PTSD symptoms in a nationally representative sample of trauma-exposed, European-American U.S. military veterans ( N=2,030). PRS were derived from a GWAS of PTSD re-experiencing symptoms ( N=146,660) in the Million Veteran Program cohort. Using one-sample Mendelian randomization (MR) with data from the UK Biobank ( N=115,099), we evaluated the effects of re-experiencing PRS and attachment style on PTSD symptoms.


Higher re-experiencing PRS and secure attachment style were independently associated with PTSD symptoms. A significant PRS-by-attachment-style interaction was also observed ( β=-0.11, p=0.006) with a positive association between re-experiencing PRS and PTSD symptoms observed only among veterans with an insecure attachment style. One-sample MR analyses suggested that the association between PTSD symptoms and attachment style is bidirectional. PRS enrichment analyses revealed a significant interaction between attachment style and a variant mapping to the IGSF11 gene (rs151177743; p=2.1×10 -7), which is implicated in regulating excitatory synaptic transmission and plasticity.


Attachment style may moderate polygenic risk for PTSD symptoms, and a novel locus implicated in synaptic transmission and plasticity may serve as a possible biological mediator of this association. These findings may help inform interpersonally-oriented treatments for PTSD for individuals with high polygenic risk for this disorder.

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About S. R. Zelenz 119 Articles
S.R. Zelenz has worked in education for 20 years. Working with students from all walks of life, cultures, races, and social diversity, Zelenz’s research in Educational Leadership led to finding a better way to approach learning for students with trauma histories. Many were juvenile offenders, gang members, diagnosed with varying behavioral disorders, or had family histories of violence, murder, or narcissistic parenting. This research could not be effectively accomplished without further understanding: how epigenetic trauma inheritance may be impacting these students; how brain development from trauma may be impacting their behavioral and emotional development; as well as deep understanding of psychology and its varying classifications for behavioral and personality disorders. The goal is to find solutions for changing the conversation and making a real difference for these students. She has also worked with nonprofits of varying focus areas for the last 25 years. Her undergraduate degree in Arts Administration and Music prepared her for managing nonprofits of any size as well as procuring funding so that they can achieve their goals. Pairing her nonprofit background with her education background, she has been able to make a difference for over 200 nonprofits worldwide, written curriculum for schools across the globe, and assisted many arts organizations through performance and management.