Molecular Psychotraumatology / Facilitating holistic health after chronic stress and trauma

Project: Etiology, Symptomatology and Therapy of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Survivors of the Civil War in Uganda

Project Team

Project Management
Prof. Dr. Iris-Tatjana Kolassa

M.Sc. Anna Schneider
Anett Pfeiffer (vivo Uganda)

Cooperation partners
Dr. Sarah Wilker, Universität Bielefeld

Prof. Dr. Iris-Tatjana Kolassa

Research questions

In cooperation with the vivo outpatient clinic for survivors of violence and trauma in Gulu, Northern Uganda we investigated:

  • Evaluation of quantification and investigation of the influence of trauma exposure as an environmental risk factor on the development and therapy of posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Identification of genetic and epigenetic factors influencing the development of posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Identification of genetic and epigenetic factors influencing the therapeutic outcome of trauma-focused exposure therapy with posttraumatic stress disorder patients (narrative exposure therapy)
  • Biological correlates of the therapeutic outcome of trauma-focused narrative exposure therapy

External funding and cooperation network

Funding under the D-A-CH Programme of the German Research Foundation (DFG) in cooperation with the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF)

The project was conducted in cooperation with the following institutions:


  • Sarah Wilker: 2017 PhD Award of the Ulm University Society
  • Sarah Wilker: DeGPT Award of the Falk-von-Reichenbach Foundation 2015
  • Sarah Wilker: Finalist of the commitment prize of the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes „Weiter-Geben“ (German National Academic Scholarship Foundation)


  • Conrad, D., Wilker, S., Schneider, A., Karabatsiakis, A., Pfeiffer, A., Kolassa, S., … Kolassa, I.-T. (2018). Integrated genetic, epigenetic, and gene set enrichment analyses identify NOTCH as a potential mediator for PTSD risk after trauma: Results from two independent African cohorts. Psychophysiology, e13288. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13288. [pdf]

  • Conrad, D., Wilker, S., Pfeiffer, A., Lingenfelder, B., Ebalu, T., Elbert, T., Kolassa, I.-T., Kolassa,S. (2017) Does trauma event type matter in the assessment of traumatic load? European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8(1), 1344079. [pdf]

  • Heck, A., Milnik, A., Vukojevic, V., Petrovska, J., Egli, T., Singer, J., Escobar, P., Sengstag, T., Coynel, D., Freytag, V., Fastenrath, M., Demougin, P., Loos, E., Hartmann, F., Schicktanz, N., Delarue Bizzini, B., Vogler, C., Kolassa, I.-T., Wilker, S., Elbert, T., Schwede, T., Beisel, C., Beerenwinkel, N., de Quervain, D.J.-F., Papassotiropoulos, A. (2017). Exome sequencing of healthy phenotypic extremes links TROVE2 to emotional memory and PTSD. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(4), s41562-017, doi: 10.1038/s41562-017-0081.

  • Wilker, S., Pfeiffer, A., Elbert, T., Ovuga, E., Karabatsiakis, A., Schelling, G. & Kolassa, I.-T. (2016). Endocannabinoid concentrations in hair are related to posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 67, 198-206. [pdf]

  • Karabatsiakis, A., Hamuni, G., Wilker, S., Kolassa, S., Renu, D., Kadereit, S., Schauer, M, Hennessy, T., & Kolassa, I.-T. (2015). Metabolite profiling in posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Molecular Psychiatry, 3(2), doi: 10.1186/s40303-015-0007-3.

  • Wilker, S., Pfeiffer, A., Kolassa, S., Koslowski, D., Elbert, T., & Kolassa, I-T. (2015). How to quantify exposure to traumatic stress? - Reliability and validity of measures for cumulative trauma exposure in a post-conflict population. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 6: 28306, doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v6.28306
  • Vukojevic, V.,  Kolassa, I-T., Fastenrath, M. ,Gschwind, L., Spalek, K., Milnik, A.,  Heck, A., Vogler, C., Wilker, S., Demougin, P., Peter, F., Atucha, E., Stetak, A. Roozendaal, B., Elbert, T., Papassotiropoulos, A. & de Quervain, D. (2014). Epigenetic modification of the glucocorticoid receptor gene is linked to traumatic memories and PTSD risk in genocide survivors. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(31), 10274-10284, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1526-14.2014.

  •  Wilker, S., Pfeiffer, A., Kolassa, S., Elbert, T., Lingenfelder, B., Ovuga, E., Papassotiropoulos, A., de Quervain, D., & Kolassa I.-T. (2014). The role of FKBP5 genotype in moderating long-term effectiveness of exposure-based psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. Translational Psychiatry, 4:e403, doi: 10.1038/tp.2014.49.

  • Wilker, S., Elbert, T., Papassotiropoulos, A., de Quervain, D., & Kolassa I.-T. (2014). WWC1 (KIBRA) and memory-related psychopathology: Future research directions. Biological Psychiatry, 76(11), e27- e28, doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.05.003.
  • Wilker, S., Elbert, T., & Kolassa I.-T. (2014). The downside of strong emotional memories: How human memory-related genes influence the risk for posttraumatic stress disorder – A selective review. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 112, doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2013.08.015

  • Papassotiropoulos, A., Gerhards, C., Heck, A., Ackermann, S., Aerni, A., Demougin, P., Elbert, T., Ertl, V., Gschwind, L., Hanser, E., Huynh, K.-D., Jessen, F., Kolassa, I.-T., Muhs, A., Paganetti, P., Spalek, K., Vogler, C., Pfeifer, A., de Quervain, D. (2013). Human genome-guided identification of memory-modulating drugs. PNAS, 110(46):e4369-74. [pdf]

  • Wilker, S., Kolassa, S., Vogler, C., Lingenfelder, B., Elbert, T., Papassotiropoulos, A., De Quervain, D. J.-F., et al. (2013). The Role of Memory-related Gene WWC1 (KIBRA) in Lifetime Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Evidence from Two Independent Samples from African Conflict Regions. Biological Psychiatry, 74(9):664-671, doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.02.022. [Abstract]

  • Wilker, S. & Kolassa, I.-T. (2013). The formation of a neural fear network in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Insights from molecular genetics. Clinical Psychological Science, 1(4), 452-469. [pdf]

  • de Quervain, D. J.-F., Kolassa, I.-T., Ackermann, S., Aerni, A., Boesiger, P., Demougin, P., Elbert, T., Ertl, V., Gschwind, L., Hadziselimovic, N.,Hanser, E., Heck, E., Hieber, P., Huynh, K.-D., Klarhöfer, M., Luechinger, R., Rasch, B., Scheffler, K., Spalek, K., Stippich, C., Vogler, C., Vukojevic, V., Stetak, A. Papassotiropoulos, A.(2012). PKCα is genetically linked to emotional memory in healthy Europeans and to the risk for PTSD in heavily traumatized Rwandese. PNAS, 109(22):8746-51. [pdf]

  • Kolassa, I.-T., Ertl., V., Eckart, C., Thurm, F., Kolassa, S., Papassotiropoulos, A., de Quervain, D. J.-F., Elbert, T. (2010). Association study of trauma load and SLC6A4 promoter polymorphism in PTSD: evidence from survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 71(5):543-547. [pdf]

  • Kolassa, I.-T., Kolassa, S., Ertl, V., Papassotiropoulos, A., & de Quervain, D. J.-F. (2010). The risk of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after trauma depends on trauma load and the COMT Val158Met polymorphism. Biological Psychiatry, 67(4), 304-308. [pdf]

  • de Quervain, D. J.-F., Kolassa, I.-T., Ertl, V. Onyut, P. L., Neuner, F., Elbert, T., & Papassotiropoulos, A. (2007). A deletion variant of the α2b-adrenoceptor is related to emotional memory in Europeans and Africans. Nature Neuroscience, 10(9), 1137-1139. [pdf]