Bridging a translational gap: Using machine learning to improve the prediction of PTSD

and For members of the Jerusalem Trauma Outreach and Prevention Study (J-TOPS) group

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114 Scopus citations


Background: Predicting Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a pre-requisite for targeted prevention. Current research has identified group-level risk-indicators, many of which (e.g., head trauma, receiving opiates) concern but a subset of survivors. Identifying interchangeable sets of risk indicators may increase the efficiency of early risk assessment. The study goal is to use supervised machine learning (ML) to uncover interchangeable, maximally predictive combinations of early risk indicators. Methods: Data variables (features) reflecting event characteristics, emergency department (ED) records and early symptoms were collected in 957 trauma survivors within ten days of ED admission, and used to predict PTSD symptom trajectories during the following fifteen months. A Target Information Equivalence Algorithm (TIE*) identified all minimal sets of features (Markov Boundaries; MBs) that maximized the prediction of a non-remitting PTSD symptom trajectory when integrated in a support vector machine (SVM). The predictive accuracy of each set of predictors was evaluated in a repeated 10-fold cross-validation and expressed as average area under the Receiver Operating Characteristics curve (AUC) for all validation trials. Results: The average number of MBs per cross validation was 800. MBs' mean AUC was 0.75 (95% range: 0.67-0.80). The average number of features per MB was 18 (range: 12-32) with 13 features present in over 75% of the sets. Conclusions: Our findings support the hypothesized existence of multiple and interchangeable sets of risk indicators that equally and exhaustively predict non-remitting PTSD. ML's ability to increase prediction versatility is a promising step towards developing algorithmic, knowledge-based, personalized prediction of post-traumatic psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 12 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Karstoft et al.


  • Early prediction
  • Machine learning
  • Markov boundary feature selection
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Risk factors
  • Support vector machines


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