Children's risk and resilience following a natural disaster: Genetic vulnerability, posttraumatic stress, and depression

Annette M. La Greca, Betty S. Lai, Jutta Joormann, Beth B. Auslander, Mary A. Short

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Objective We examined children's risk and resilience following a natural disaster, evaluating the role of stress, social support, and two genetic markers: the short allele of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR), and the met allele of the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).Under high levels of hurricane exposure or hurricane-related stressors, we expected children displaying the markers would report greater symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression than children without these markers. Social support was explored as an additional moderating variable. Method Eight months after Hurricane Ike, 116 children (M age=8.85 years, SD=.89; 54% girls) residing in Galveston, Texas, provided saliva samples and completed measures of hurricane exposure and stress, and symptoms of PTSD and depression; 80 also completed a social support measure. Results For BDNF, analyses revealed several Gene by Environment interactions; greater stress was related to more symptoms of PTSD and depression, and this effect was stronger for children with the met allele. No findings emerged for 5-HTTLPR. Stressors and social support also were associated with children's PTSD and depressive symptoms. Limitations Findings should be tempered by the relatively small sample, especially for analysis that included social support. Conclusions The met allele (BDNF) may play a role in children's disaster reactions. Further research should consider the complex interplay between genes, stressors, support, and psychological outcomes over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)860-867
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Children
  • Depression
  • Disasters
  • Genetics
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Stressors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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