Trauma Exposure in US Soldiers: Linking Genetics, Bipolar Disorder & Alcohol Misuse

Research Paper Title

Trauma exposure interacts with the genetic risk of bipolar disorder in alcohol misuse of US soldiers.


To investigate whether trauma exposure moderates the genetic correlation between substance use disorders and psychiatric disorders, we tested whether trauma exposure modifies the association of genetic risks for mental disorders with alcohol misuse and nicotine dependence (ND) symptoms.


High-resolution polygenic risk scores (PRSs) were calculated for 10 732 US Army soldiers (8346 trauma-exposed and 2386 trauma-unexposed) based on genome-wide association studies of bipolar disorder (BD), major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia.


The main finding was a significant BD PRS-by-trauma interaction with respect to alcohol misuse (P = 6.07 × 10-3 ). The researchers observed a positive correlation between BD PRS and alcohol misuse in trauma-exposed soldiers (r = 0.029, P = 7.5 × 10-3 ) and a negative correlation in trauma-unexposed soldiers (r = -0.071, P = 5.61 × 10-4 ). Consistent (nominally significant) result with concordant effect, directions were observed in the schizophrenia PRS-by-trauma interaction analysis. The variants included in the BD PRS-by-trauma interaction showed significant enrichments for gene ontologies related to high voltage-gated calcium channel activity (GO:0008331, P = 1.51 × 10-5 ; GO:1990454, P = 4.49 × 10-6 ; GO:0030315, P = 2.07 × 10-6 ) and for Beta1/Beta2 adrenergic receptor signaling pathways (P = 2.61 × 10-4 ).


These results indicate that the genetic overlap between alcohol misuse and BD is significantly moderated by trauma exposure. This provides molecular insight into the complex mechanisms that link substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, and trauma exposure.


Polimanti, R., Kaufman, J., Zhao, H., Kranzler, H.R., Ursano, R.J., Kessler, R.C., Stein, M.B. & Gelernter J. (2018) Trauma exposure interacts with the genetic risk of bipolar disorder in alcohol misuse of US soldiers. Acta Psychiatraic Scandinavica. 137(2), pp.148-156. doi: 10.1111/acps.12843. Epub 2017 Dec 11.


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