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MSU, WSU studies PTSD and stress regulation

MSU College of Human Medicine's Bengt Arnetz

Researchers from Wayne State and Michigan State University have new details about how refugees, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, regulate stress.

Refugees diagnosed with PTSD are shown to handle stress differently than refugees who are not—even if they’ve experienced similar suffering.

It’s estimated that perhaps a quarter of all refugees entering the United States have PTSD.

“What we discovered was that a gene associated with a person’s mental health became overactive in refugees with PTSD and wasn’t able to respond the right way when working with the body’s stress defense system,” Bengt Arnetz told MSU Today.

The methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene, or MECP2, assists in control over the normal function of nerve cells. MECP2 is key for the human body’s mental health, which includes its ability to handle stress.

An individual’s stress defense system is known as the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical axis—or simply the HPA. The HPA activates when one is exposed to mental pressure or trauma.

In refugees with PTSD, the HPA is unable to respond correctly—thus the brain is unable to relax.

The federally funded study observed 66 male and female refugees from Syria. Each were interviewed and given a medical survey to determine whether they had PTSD.

The survey is known as the PTSD Checklist-Civilian. It includes questions about socioeconomics, exposure to trauma and symptoms associated with PTSD. Refugees testing positive for PTSD were compared to those with negative results.

Arnetz believes these findings will assist in aiding refugees once they arrive to the United States.


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