Reduced peripheral expression of the glucocorticoid receptor α isoform in Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder : a cumulative effect of trauma burden

Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious psychiatric condition that was found to be associated with altered functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and changes in glucocorticoid (GC) responsiveness. The physiological actions of GCs are primarily mediated through GC receptors (GR) of which isoforms with different biological activities exist. This study aimed to investigate whether trauma-experience and/or PTSD are associated with altered expression of GR splice variants.

Methods: GRa and GRb mRNA expression levels were determined by real-time quantitative PCR in whole blood samples of individuals with chronic and severe forms of PTSD (n=42) as well as in ethnically matched reference subjects (non-PTSD, n=35).

Results: Individuals suffering from PTSD exhibited significantly lower expression of the predominant and functionally active GRa isoform compared to non-PTSD subjects. This effect remained significant when accounting for gender, smoking, psychotropic medication or comorbid depression. Moreover, the GRa expression level was significantly negatively correlated with the number of traumatic event types experienced, both in the whole sample and within the PTSD patient group. Expression of the less abundant and non-ligand binding GRb isoform was comparable between patient and reference groups.

Conclusions: Reduced expression of the functionally active GRa isoform in peripheral blood cells of individuals with PTSD seems to be a cumulative effect of trauma burden rather than a specific feature of PTSD since non-PTSD subjects with high trauma load showed an intermediate phenotype between PTSD patients and individuals with no or few traumatic experiences.


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