Summary: A simple saliva test that analyzes microbial distribution may accurately be used to diagnose PTSD in people, a new study reports.
Source: Tel Aviv University
A scientific development from the Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities may facilitate speedy, objective and accurate diagnosis of people suffering from PTSD using saliva samples.
As part of the study, the researchers characterized the psychological, social and medical conditions of about 200 participants, while at the same time collecting saliva samples from them.
The findings of this study show a typical microbial picture in the saliva of veteran soldiers who had experienced combat stress-related reactions (from the first Lebanon War) and are currently suffering from post-trauma.
According to the researchers, these results may help in the future to reach an accurate and objective diagnosis of people suffering from post-trauma, and to develop microbiotic-related medications (associated with the body’s microbial ecology).
This study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.
The study was a joint effort by scholars from various fields. It was led by Professor Illana Gozes and included Professor Noam Shomron, Dr. Shlomo Sragovich and Ph.D. student Guy Shapira, (all from TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience) as well as Prof. Zahava Solomon from TAU’s Gershon Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences, and Prof. Abraham Sagi-Schwartz and Ph.D. student Ella Levert-Levitt from the Center for the Study of Child Development and the School of Psychological Sciences at Haifa University.
The participants in the study came from a larger cohort of subjects from a comprehensive four-decade-long study of veterans by Prof. Solomon.
The researchers tested a unique group of about 200 Israeli veteran soldiers who had fought in the first Lebanon War in 1982. The test covered various psychological aspects, including sleep, appetite disorders, guilt, suicidal thoughts, social and spousal support, hostility, satisfaction with life, as well as issues of demographics, psychopathology, welfare, health and education.
Comparing the results of the subjects’ microbial distribution to the psychological results and their responses to the welfare questionnaires, the researchers from the universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa found that people with PTSD and high psychopathological indications exhibit the same picture of bacteria in the saliva (a unique oral microbiotic signature).
According to the researchers, these results may help in the future to reach an accurate and objective diagnosis of people suffering from post-trauma, and to develop microbiotic-related medications (associated with the body’s microbial ecology). Image is in the public domain
According to the researchers, this study is significant in that for the first time, we might be able to diagnose post-trauma by objective criteria and not just behavioral ones.
It is interesting to note here that the saliva bacteria of those exposed to air pollution showed a correlation to the picture with PTSD, while the number of years of education showed a protective influence and a reverse picture of the microbial ecology in the saliva.
Prof. Illana Gozes says that “to the best of our knowledge, this is the first depiction of a microbial signature in the saliva among veteran soldiers with PTSD. We were surprised to discover that about a third of the PTSD subjects had never been diagnosed with post-trauma, so they never received any recognition from the Ministry of Defense and the official authorities.”
“It must be stressed that until now, post-trauma diagnosis has been based solely on psychological and psychiatric measures. Thanks to this study, it may be possible, in the future, to use objective molecular and biological characteristics to distinguish PSTD sufferers, taking into account environmental influences.
“We hope that this new discovery and the microbial signatures described in this study might promote easier diagnosis of post-traumatic veteran soldiers so they can receive appropriate treatment.”
Oral microbiota signatures in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) veterans
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) represents a global public health concern, affecting about 1 in 20 individuals.
The symptoms of PTSD include intrusiveness (involuntary nightmares or flashbacks), avoidance of traumatic memories, negative alterations in cognition and mood (such as negative beliefs about oneself or social detachment), increased arousal and reactivity with irritable reckless behavior, concentration problems, and sleep disturbances. PTSD is also highly comorbid with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
To advance the field from subjective, self-reported psychological measurements to objective molecular biomarkers while considering environmental influences, we examined a unique cohort of Israeli veterans who participated in the 1982 Lebanon war. Non-invasive oral 16S RNA sequencing was correlated with psychological phenotyping.
Thus, a microbiota signature (i.e., decreased levels of the bacteria sp_HMT_914, 332 and 871 and Noxia) was correlated with PTSD severity, as exemplified by intrusiveness, arousal, and reactivity, as well as additional psychopathological symptoms, including anxiety, hostility, memory difficulties, and idiopathic pain.
In contrast, education duration correlated with significantly increased levels of sp_HMT_871 and decreased levels of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, and presented an inverted correlation with adverse psychopathological measures. Air pollution was positively correlated with PTSD symptoms, psychopathological symptoms, and microbiota composition.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms were correlated with reductions in transaldolase, an enzyme controlling a major cellular energy pathway, that potentially accelerates aging.
In conclusion, the newly discovered bacterial signature, whether an outcome or a consequence of PTSD, could allow for objective soldier deployment and stratification according to decreases in sp_HMT_914, 332, 871, and Noxia levels, coupled with increases in Bacteroidetes levels.
These findings also raise the possibility of microbiota pathway-related non-intrusive treatments for PTSD.