Harvard Catalyst Profiles

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Development Epidemiology of PTSD


The majority of Americans report exposure to a traumatic event, although only a minority develops posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The disparity between the prevalence of exposure and the development of PTSD has driven epidemiologic research to determine the etiology of PTSD and to identify the factors that increase risk for the disorder. To date, most research has only identified correlates of PTSD, not true risk factors. Furthermore, few epidemiologic studies have tested models based on research from neurocognitive studies of PTSD or taken into account genetic influences on the disorder. Thus, progress in PTSD risk factor research has been limited methodologically and conceptually, suffering from a lack of integration with findings from other research domains, such as cognitive neuroscience and behavioral genetics. The purpose of this Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award (K08) is to enable the candidate, a clinical psychologist with recent postdoctoral training in psychiatric epidemiology, to become an independent investigator conducting integrative research on the developmental epidemiology of PTSD. The research component of this proposal focuses on developing and testing a specific etiologic model: that neurocognitive self-regulation is a central mechanism underlying the relationship between genetic and environmental risk factors identified in epidemiologic studies and PTSD. To test this model, the candidate will obtain training in developmental psychopathology informed by cognitive neuroscience and behavioral genetics. Training will be provided via coursework, formal tutorials and consultation with a panel of experts, conferences, literature reviews, and specific research projects. Research projects include: 1) two major longitudinal, epidemiologic studies of developmental psychopathology, 2) a family-based candidate gene association study, and 3) a pilot case-control study of markers for neurocognitive self regulation in PTSD. Training obtained via this award will prepare the candidate to submit an R01 application for a longitudinal genetically informative study of the role of neurocognitive self-regulation in the development of PTSD. This work will help the development of prevention and treatment interventions for traumatized individuals and will contribute to our understanding of the etiology of PTSD.

Funded by the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through its Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, grant number UL1TR002541.