Sumner, J.A., Maihofer, A.X., Michopoulos, V., … Zoellner, L.A., Nievergelt, C.M., Wolf, E.J. Examining Individual and Synergistic Contributions of PTSD and Genetics to Blood Pressure: A Trans-Ethnic Meta-Analysis. Fronteirs in Neuroscience (2021),

Growing research suggests that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be a risk factor for poor cardiovascular health, and yet our understanding of who might be at greatest risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes after trauma is limited. In this study, we conducted the first examination of the individual and synergistic contributions of PTSD symptoms and blood pressure genetics to continuous blood pressure levels. We harnessed the power of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium-PTSD Physical Health Working Group and investigated these associations across 11 studies of 72,224 trauma-exposed individuals of European (n = 70,870) and African (n = 1,354) ancestry. Genetic contributions to blood pressure were modeled via polygenic scores (PGS) for systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) that were derived from a prior trans-ethnic blood pressure genome-wide association study (GWAS). Results of trans-ethnic meta-analyses revealed significant main effects of the PGS on blood pressure levels [SBP: β = 2.83, standard error (SE) = 0.06, p < 1E-20; DBP: β = 1.32, SE = 0.04, p < 1E-20]. Significant main effects of PTSD symptoms were also detected for SBP and DBP in trans-ethnic meta-analyses, though there was significant heterogeneity in these results. When including data from the largest contributing study – United Kingdom Biobank – PTSD symptoms were negatively associated with SBP levels (β = −1.46, SE = 0.44, p = 9.8E-4) and positively associated with DBP levels (β = 0.70, SE = 0.26, p = 8.1E-3). However, when excluding the United Kingdom Biobank cohort in trans-ethnic meta-analyses, there was a nominally significant positive association between PTSD symptoms and SBP levels (β = 2.81, SE = 1.13, p = 0.01); no significant association was observed for DBP (β = 0.43, SE = 0.78, p = 0.58). Blood pressure PGS did not significantly moderate the associations between PTSD symptoms and blood pressure levels in meta-analyses. Additional research is needed to better understand the extent to which PTSD is associated with high blood pressure and how genetic as well as contextual factors may play a role in influencing cardiovascular risk.

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