Jessica Miller: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Navigation and Genes

Jessica Miller (MPhil Cantab) has developed a project researching PTSD, Navigation and Genes, with which she is undertaking a PhD (supervised by Dr Jan Wiener), and also working in collaboration with UCL (Prof Chris Brewin).

The project is being submitted by the NHS for registration with the NIHR in early 2013. The research is unfunded but with supporting contributions from the Army of Angels (registered charity), the BU Foundation and the PGR Scheme at Bournemouth University. Fieldwork will take place through Combat Stress (registered charity), Cambridgeshire Constabulary, and Branksome Psychotherapy Clinic (Poole).

Why would PTSD effect navigation?

Based on a 2 year literature review around the hippocampus, PTSD and navigation – the hypothesis developed that if people who suffer from long term PTSD typically have smaller hippocampi, and if as people age (and their hippocampi wastes), their allocentric navigation is impaired, it makes sense to speculate that hippocampal-dependant navigation in those with PTSD would be effected. This hypothesis has also recently been reached by some at UCL through work with rats and stress toxins. During the research design phase a variation of the BDNF gene has been associated with lack of hippocampal neurogenesis from spatial training. This begs the question: does this gene present itself in PTSD sufferers? Early research just published in S. Africa suggests so.

The challenge now is to quantify and explain the relationship between the three variables: PTSD, BDNF gene variation and spatial processing.

What does the research look like?

• 5 sample populations with n= 150 over 2 years
• 90 minute participant contact time each
• Screens for depression, brain injury, SSRIs, childhood trauma and PTSD severity
• Questionnaires on navigation preferences and cognition
• Virtual Reality spatial processing paradigm and paper-based perception test

If you would like more information or would like to take part as a control, or if you know anyone who had experienced childhood trauma and/or PTSD- please do get in touch! Email me at