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Development of psychiatric diseases such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) invokes, as with most complex diseases, both genetic and environmental factors. The era of genome-wide high throughput technologies has sparked the initiation of genotype screenings in large cohorts of diseased and control individuals, but had limited success in identification of disease causing genetic variants. It has become evident that these efforts at the genomic level need to be complemented with endeavours in elucidating the proteome, transcriptome and epigenetic profiles. Epigenetics is attractive in particular because there is accumulating evidence that the lasting impact of adverse life events is reflected in certain covalent modifications of the chromatin.
In this review, we outline the characteristics of PTSD as a stress-related disease and survey recent developments revealing epigenetic aspects of stress-related disorders in general. There is also increasing direct evidence for gene programming and epigenetic components in PTSD. Finally, we discuss treatment options in the light of recent discoveries of epigenetic mechanisms of psychotropic drugs.