The Epigenetic Legacy of Trauma

The evening of November 9th, 1938, began with typical fall solemnity for many Jews living across Germany: closing up their shops and businesses, returning home from school, and preparing family suppers. It would end with terror, as mobs ransacked storefronts, assaulted Jews on the street, and set fire to their homes. That terrible night would be known to history by the glittering debris of shattered windows lining the streets: “Kristallnacht.”

Kristallnacht, and the subsequent atrocities of Germany’s holocaust against the Jews, changed the world. Modernity had to forever acknowledge a surprising and abhorrent crime. Societies would undergo lasting changes, attempting to prevent such crimes, and the victims themselves, sadly, would suffer long-lasting impacts to their psyche.Continue reading

The Sum of All Fears Knowing Neurons

The Sum of All Fears… Includes Safety?

Identifying safe or dangerous situations are essential for survival.  A child may be fearful of crossing a road alone, but he will be completely relaxed while crossing the same road with his mom.  The inability to discriminate between dangerous and safe situations produces responses that may lead to anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (Pitman et al., 2012).  The fear circuitry in the brain has been extensively mapped out with many studies focusing on the amygdala as the primary player in fear regulation (LeDoux, 2000).  In fact, many undergraduate students in psychology and physiology are taught that the amygdala is the “fear center” of the brain.  However, recent experiments demonstrate that the amygdala is responsible for regulating safety, too!Continue reading

The Road to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Begins at the Intersection of DNA and Childhood Trauma

Shakespeare left out a crucial component for understanding human behavior when he wrote:

it is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

Our genetic predispositions are only part of the equation when it comes to determining our risk for developing psychiatric disorders. Exposure to stressful environments during critical periods of brain development plays a dramatic role in changing gene function and influencing response to traumatic events in adulthood.Continue reading