DFG awarded the Emmy Noether Program to Dr. Iris-Tatjana Kolassa for the project "Stress and trauma-associated immunological changes and their implications on health"
Chronic and traumatic stress, as experienced by persons suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is associated with poor health, high health care utilization, and an increased risk for a variety of diseases such as cardiovascular, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, stress has been associated with increased mutagenesis and decreased DNA repair capability, presumably increasing the risk for carcinogenesis. In sum, PTSD patients show increased morbidity and are at high risk for severe physical diseases. Research, including our own findings, indicates immunological alterations in PTSD patients with respect to cytokine levels as well as lymphocyte development and differentiation. This project addresses a) the relationship between severity of stress and associated immunological changes, b) the reversibility of immunological alterations through psychotherapy, and c) the functional implications of observed immunological alterations for physical health and disease. New, innovative lineage markers for T cell differentiation will be used, and the so far little explored influence of traumatic stress on molecular cell processes will be investigated. The findings may ultimately allow the evaluation of therapies based on their effects on physical health, and provide evidence-based justification for the necessity of early treatment of mental disorders to prevent more severe secondary physical illnesses.