Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychiatric disorder that develops in a subset of people exposed to traumatic events. The rate of lifetime PTSD in low income, inner-city populations where there is significantly increased risk for exposure to multiple traumatic events and childhood trauma is much higher than the general population. Studying PTSD symptomatology in this type of at-risk sample provides a unique opportunity to better understand underlying mechanisms in the development and maintenance of PTSD symptoms. One psychological factor that may determine greater risk in the development of PTSD symptoms is emotion dysregulation. Emotion dysregulation reflects deficits in awareness and acceptance of emotions as well as in regulation strategies to manage intense negative emotional states. Research has already shown that emotion dysregulation can be viewed as a transdiagnostic process that contributes to many types of adult psychopathology, including PTSD. Difficulties with emotion regulation are often found in individuals exposed to traumatic events and evidence suggests that these problems can develop early on and persist into adulthood. Therefore, the role of emotion dysregulation in trauma-related psychopathology may be particularly salient in populations at risk for exposure to multiple traumas across the lifespan. These findings all suggest that emotion dysregulation may be a critical factor in understanding the complex relationship between trauma, PTSD, and other psychopathology. While there is growing evidence to suggest the importance of emotion dysregulation in PTSD symptomology, most research on emotion dysregulation has focused on unidimensional self-report measures and has not established how emotion dysregulation relates to objectively identified biomarkers of PTSD. Furthermore, because of the varied presentation of PTSD symptoms, it is critical that research move beyond a focus on the categorical disorder and instead [evaluate differential effects on the continuous presentation of symptoms across intrusion, avoidance, numbing and hyperarousal symptom clusters. This approach is highly relevant to the NIMH RDoC initiative in that it will include biological in addition to psychologica metrics and examine constructs that cut across DSM defined disorders.] Specifically, the present study will use subjective and behavioral measures of emotion dysregulation and evaluate how these differentially relate to the PTSD symptom clusters as well as behavioral and physiological biomarkers of PTSD in a highly traumatized urban minority population with the goal of understanding pathways between trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms.

Public Health Relevance

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a highly debilitating and complex disorder frequently comorbid with many medical and psychiatric illnesses. Difficulties with emotion regulation are often found in individuals exposed to traumatic events and may determine greater risk in the development of PTSD. The goal of this proposal is to investigate the role of emotion dysregulation in PTSD symptoms using objective behavioral and physiological measures with the goal of better understanding underlying mechanisms behind trauma-related psychopathology and [inform the development of novel and effective approaches for treating PTSD, particularly in high-risk populations such as low-income, African-Americans.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Chavez, Mark
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Emory University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Lin, Cliff; Michopoulos, Vasiliki; Powers, Abigail et al. (2018) Affect, inflammation, and health in urban at-risk civilians. J Psychiatr Res 104:24-31
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Powers, Abigail; Almli, Lynn; Smith, Alicia et al. (2016) A genome-wide association study of emotion dysregulation: Evidence for interleukin 2 receptor alpha. J Psychiatr Res 83:195-202

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