The effect of genetic vulnerability and military deployment on the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive symptoms

Remmelt R. Schur*, Dick Schijven, Marco P. Boks, Bart P. F. Rutten, Murray B. Stein, Jan H. Veldink, Marian Joels, Elbert Geuze, Eric Vermetten, Jurjen J. Luykx, Christiaan H. Vinkers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Exposure to trauma strongly increases the risk to develop stress-related psychopathology, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder (MDD). In addition, liability to develop these moderately heritable disorders is partly determined by common genetic variance, which is starting to be uncovered by genome-wide association studies (GWASs). However, it is currently unknown to what extent genetic vulnerability and trauma interact. We investigated whether genetic risk based on summary statistics of large GWASs for PTSD and MDD predisposed individuals to report an increase in MDD and PTSD symptoms in a prospective military cohort (N = 516) at five time points after deployment to Afghanistan: one month, six months and one, two and five years. Linear regression was used to analyze the contribution of polygenic risk scores (PRSs, at multiple p-value thresholds) and their interaction with deployment-related trauma to the development of PTSD-and depression-related symptoms. We found no main effects of PRSs nor evidence for interactions with trauma on the development of PTSD or depressive symptoms at any of the time points in the five years after military deployment. Our results based on a unique long-term follow-up of a deployed military cohort suggest limited validity of current PTSD and MDD polygenic risk scores, albeit in the presence of minimal severe psychopathology in the target cohort. Even though the predictive value of PRSs will likely benefit from larger sample sizes in discovery and target datasets, progress will probably also depend on (endo) phenotype refinement that in turn will reduce etiological heterogeneity. (c) 2018 Published by Elsevier B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-415
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • PRS
  • Psychopathology
  • PTSD
  • Deployment
  • Longitudinal
  • Trauma
  • IRAQ


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