Background There is considerable variation in psychological reactions to natural disasters, with responses ranging from relatively mild and transitory symptoms to severe and persistent posttraumatic stress (PTS). Some survivors also report post-traumatic growth (PTG), or positive psychological changes due to the experience and processing of the disaster and its aftermath. Gene-environment interaction (GxE) studies could offer new insight into the factors underlying variability in post-disaster psychological responses. However, few studies have explored GxE in a disaster context. Methods We examined whether ten common variants in seven genes (BDNF, CACNA1C, CRHR1, FKBP5, OXTR, RGS2, SLC6A4) modified associations between Hurricane Katrina exposure and PTS and PTG. Data were from a prospective study of 205 low-income non-Hispanic Black parents residing in New Orleans prior to and following Hurricane Katrina. Results We found a significant association (after correction) between RGS2 (rs4606; p=0.0044) and PTG, which was mainly driven by a cross-over GxE (p=0.006), rather than a main genetic effect (p=0.071). The G (minor allele) was associated with lower PTG scores for low levels of Hurricane exposure and higher PTG scores for moderate and high levels of exposure. We also found a nominally significant association between variation in FKBP5 (rs1306780, p=0.0113) and PTG, though this result did not survive correction for multiple testing. Limitations Although the inclusion of low-income non-Hispanic Black parents allowed us to examine GxE among a highly vulnerable group, our findings may not generalize to other populations or groups experiencing other natural disasters. Moreover, not all participants invited to participate in the genetic study provided saliva. Conclusions To our knowledge, this is the first study to identify GxE in the context of post-traumatic growth. Future studies are needed to clarify the role of GxE in PTS and PTG and post-disaster psychological responses, especially among vulnerable populations.
- Post-traumatic growth
- Post-traumatic stress