Pre-deployment differences in glucocorticoid sensitivity of leukocytes in soldiers developing symptoms of PTSD, depression or fatigue persist after return from military deployment.

PMID 25277845


Deployed soldiers are at risk of developing stress-related conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and severe fatigue. We previously observed condition- and cell-specific differences in sensitivity of immune cells for regulation by glucocorticoids (GCs) pre-deployment between male soldiers with and without subsequent development of high levels of these stress-related symptoms. Here we investigated whether these pre-deployment dysregulations in GC-sensitivity of immune cells persisted after return from military deployment. In a prospective, longitudinal study including 721 male and female soldiers, the in vitro GC-sensitivity of monocytes and T-cells was assessed prior to deployment and one and six months post-deployment. Differences in the longitudinal course of sensitivity for regulation by dexamethasone (DEX) of LPS-stimulated TNF-α production and PHA-stimulated T-cell proliferation between soldiers with and without subsequent symptom development were investigated using linear mixed models. Within the whole group, DEX-sensitivity of monocytes was significantly decreased at six months post-deployment compared to the assessments pre-deployment and one month post-deployment. The DEX-sensitivity of T-cells did not significantly change over time. Participants developing high levels of PTSD symptoms showed high DEX-sensitivity of T-cells, while participants developing high levels of depressive symptoms showed low DEX-sensitivity of T-cells before deployment that persisted at the two time points after return. In addition, participants developing severe fatigue had low DEX-sensitivity of monocytes at all assessments. Our finding that the previously observed pre-deployment group differences in peripheral GC-sensitivity persisted until at least six months after return indicates that in vitro GC-sensitivity of T-cells and monocytes may represent a persistent biological vulnerability factor for development of stress-related conditions PTSD, depression and fatigue.