Massage therapy has been found to lessen stress, and some massage therapists specialize in working with clients who have suffered through traumatic events. Some of those clients suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while others do not.

Investigators set out to determine why some people develop PTSD when other people don’t.

PTSD can arise following child abuse, terrorist attacks, sexual or physical assault, major accidents, natural disasters or exposure to war or combat, according to a press release from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

Symptoms include flashbacks, feeling emotionally numb or hyper-alert to danger, and avoiding situations that remind one of the original trauma.

UCLA scientists have linked two genes involved in serotonin production to a higher risk of developing PTSD. These findings suggest that susceptibility to PTSD is inherited, pointing to new ways of screening for and treating the disorder, according to the press release.

“People can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after surviving a life-threatening ordeal like war, rape or a natural disaster,” explained lead author Armen Goenjian, M.D., a research professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. “If confirmed, our findings could eventually lead to new ways to screen people at risk for PTSD and target specific medicines for preventing and treating the disorder.

“We suspect that the gene variants produce less serotonin, predisposing these family members to PTSD after exposure to violence or disaster,” said Goenjian. “Our next step will be to try and replicate the findings in a larger, more heterogeneous population.”

The research is published in the online edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Related articles:

PTSD Genetic, In Part

How the Brain Reacts to Stress

Stress Tendencies Run in Families