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J Abnorm Psychol. 2010 May;119(2):320-30. doi: 10.1037/a0019035.

Posttraumatic stress disorder and the genetic structure of comorbidity.

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  • 1National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System and Department of Psychology, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA.


This study used structural equation modeling to examine the genetic and environmental architecture of latent dimensions of internalizing and externalizing psychiatric comorbidity and explored structural associations between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and these dimensions. Data were drawn from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry and included lifetime diagnoses for PTSD and a range of other psychiatric disorders for 3,372 male-male twin pairs. Examination of the phenotypic structure of these disorders revealed that PTSD cross-loaded on both Internalizing and Externalizing common factors. Biometric analyses suggested largely distinct genetic risk factors for the latent internalizing and externalizing comorbidity dimensions, with the total heritability of the Externalizing factor (69%) estimated to be significantly stronger than that for Internalizing (41%). Nonshared environment explained the majority of the remaining variance in the Internalizing (58%) and Externalizing (20%) factors. Shared genetic variance across the 2 dimensions explained 67% of their phenotypic correlation (r = .52). These findings have implications for conceptualizations of the etiology of PTSD and its location in an empirically based nosology.

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