Stress disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be alleviated by massage therapy. New, unrelated research indicates abuse during childhood results in gene changes that persist into adulthood.

A study of adult civilians with PTSD has shown that individuals with a history of childhood abuse have distinct, profound changes in gene activity patterns, compared to adults with PTSD but without a history of child abuse.

A team of researchers from Atlanta, Georgia, and Munich, Germany, studied blood samples from 169 participants in the Grady Trauma Project, a study of more than 5,000 Atlanta residents with high levels of exposure to violence, physical and sexual abuse and with high risk for civilian PTSD, according to a press release.

Study participants were divided into three groups: people who experienced trauma without developing PTSD, people with PTSD who were exposed to child abuse, and people with PTSD who were not exposed to child abuse.

The PTSD with child abuse group displayed more changes in genes linked with development of the nervous system and regulation of the immune system, while the PTSD minus child abuse group displayed more changes in genes linked with apoptosis (cell death) and growth rate regulation.

“Traumatic events that happen in childhood are embedded in the cells for a long time,” senior author Elisabeth Binder, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory and group leader at the Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, said. “Not only the disease itself, but the individual’s life experience is important in the biology of PTSD, and this should be reflected in the way we treat these disorders.”