Study finds PTSD can be detected in saliva samples

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


A groundbreaking scientific study from Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities has found that post-traumatic stress disorder may be detectable in saliva.

The study was published in Nature’s Molecular Psychiatry magazine where researchers detailed their investigation of the psychological, social, and medical conditions of about 200 Israeli veterans. The veterans came from a larger cohort of subjects from a comprehensive forty-year study of veterans who fought in the first Lebanon War in 1982.

The veterans were tested for a variety of psychological symptoms, including sleep patterns, appetite disorders, guilt, suicidal thoughts, social and spousal support, anger, satisfaction with life, as well as demographics, psychopathology, welfare, health, and education level.

The team also collected saliva samples from the veterans and compared the results of the psychological assessment and responses to the questionnaires to the microbial distribution found in the saliva samples. They found that individuals with PTSD and psychopathological indications had similar oral microbiota signatures.

These microbiota signatures also provided a correlation to how people present with PTSD and their social and environmental backgrounds. Researchers found that individuals who had a higher level of education exhibited a lower occurrence of the microbiota signature.

However, those who lived in areas with high exposure to air pollution exhibited a higher occurrence of the signature linked to PTSD. This indicates that there are many factors at play, including individual biology and environmental factors.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first depiction of a microbial signature in the saliva among veteran soldiers with PTSD,” says Professor Illana Gozes, who lead the study. “We were surprised to discover that about a third of the PTSD subjects had never been diagnosed with post-trauma, so they never received any recognition from the Ministry of Defense and the official authorities.”

Researchers are hopeful that this will lead to quicker and more accurate diagnosing of patients based on an objective diagnostic test that evaluates biological markers in addition to assessing behaviors associated with PTSD. It also may lead to better treatment options for patients and could contribute to research and development of medications that work with the body’s microbiome.

“It must be stressed that until now, post-trauma diagnosis has been based solely on psychological and psychiatric measures,” Gozes said.

Thanks to this study, it may be possible, in the future, to use objective molecular and biological characteristics to distinguish PTSD sufferers, taking into account environmental influences. We hope that this new discovery and the microbial signatures described in this study might promote easier diagnosis of post-traumatic veteran soldiers so they can receive appropriate treatment.


PTSD does not only affect soldiers. It can develop in anyone who has experienced a traumatic, shocking, or dangerous event that is beyond a normal stressor. This includes violent personal assaults, disasters, vehicular and other types of accidents, combat, and other forms of violence which induce the “fight or flight” response.

Symptoms of PTSD  include nightmares or flashbacks as internal reminders of the traumatic event, a heightened state of anxiety, depression, avoidance of external reminders, and changes in mood or thinking.

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 6% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives with about 12 million adults in the U.S. having PTSD during a given year.