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Elliot C. Nelson, MD

Current Position
Professor of Psychiatry

Education and Training
B.A.: Natural Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, 1982
Medical School: University Of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria, Illinois, 1986
Residency: Psychiatry, Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, 1990

Areas of Clinical Interest
Anxiety and affective disorders


Areas of Research Interests
Elliot Nelson, MD is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine. He received a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University and an M.D. from the University of Illinois. He was elected a Distinguished Fellow by the American Psychiatric Association in 2003.

Dr. Nelson has received research funding from NIAAA and NIDA. His research focuses on the genetics of alcohol dependence, heroin dependence, and related disorders. He has a strong interest in G x E interactions involving severe childhood trauma exposure.

Dr. Nelson and colleagues have completed data collection of two large projects directly related to the proposed research and are actively involved in analyzing these data and producing manuscripts. The first project (AA13446; PI E. Nelson) used data on childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and physical abuse (PA) provided in a prior telephone assessment of adult twin pairs from a community-based Australian twin cohort born 1964-1971 to ascertain high-risk (>1 twin reporting a history of abuse) and controls (no twin reporting abuse) families. Twins, full siblings, and parents completed a telephone assessment that included diagnostic information and history of environmental stressors including an extensive evaluation of early trauma modified from the Christchurch Trauma Assessment (CTA).

The second project (DA17305) conducted a case-control genetic association study of opioid dependence with inclusions of childhood trauma history as a risk modifying variable. It collected blood samples for DNA and assessed heroin dependent individuals from methadone maintenance clinics in the greater Sydney area and (neighborhood) controls from socioeconomically-challenged areas in the vicinity of these clinics. The assessment included DSM-IV psychiatric and substance dependence diagnoses and the CTA. Candidate gene genotyping with a custom Illumina Golden Gate chip has been completed for these groups and unrelated individuals from Australian Twin Registry families who will serve as an additional control group. As an extension of this project, he has received NIDA funding for GWAS genotyping to be conducted at CIDR on these cases and neighborhood controls as well as additional cases from a Perth AU sample and controls from Yale University. Analyses will focus on heroin dependence and will include data from already-GWAS-genotyped AU controls and Yale cases for a total of ~3000 heroin dependent cases, a population control group of similar size, and ~500 additional controls from disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The current project (AA011998: Project 7) is a follow-up of a sample for a funded Genome-wide Association Study (GWAS) of alcohol dependence. It assesses lifetime history of severe childhood and adult environmental stressors, DSM-IV lifetime diagnoses of PTSD and illicit drug dependence, and updated histories of alcohol consumption measures and DSM-IV alcohol dependence.


More articles and abstracts at the National Library of Medicine

Key Publications
Nelson EC, Heath AC, Madden PA, Cooper ML, Dinwiddie SH, Bucholz KK, Glowinski A, McLaughlin T, Dunne MP, Statham DJ, Martin NG (2002 Feb). Association between self-reported childhood sexual abuse and adverse psychosocial outcomes: results from a twin study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 59(2): 139-45.  Full Article ->

Nelson EC, Heath AC, Bucholz KK, Madden PA, Fu Q, Knopik V, Lynskey MT, Lynskey MT, Whitfield JB, Statham DJ, Martin NG (2004 Mar). Genetic epidemiology of alcohol-induced blackouts. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 61(3): 257-63.  Full Article ->

Nelson EC, Heath AC, Lynskey MT, Bucholz KK, Madden PA, Statham DJ, Martin NG (2006 Oct). Childhood sexual abuse and risks for licit and illicit drug-related outcomes: a twin study. Psychol Med. 36(10): 1473-83.  Full Article ->

Nelson EC, Agrawal A, Pergadia ML, Lynskey MT, Todorov AA, Wang JC, Todd RD, Martin NG, Heath AC, Goate AM, Montgomery GW, Madden PA (2009 Mar). Association of childhood trauma exposure and GABRA2 polymorphisms with risk of posttraumatic stress disorder in adults. Mol Psychiatry. 14(3): 234-5.  Full Article ->

Nelson EC, Agrawal A., Pergadia ML, Wang JC, Whitfield JB, Saccone FS, Kern J, Grant JD, Schrage AJ, Rice JP, Montgomery GW, Heath AC, Goate AM, Martin NG, Madden PAF. H2 haplotype at chromosome 17q21.31 protects against childhood sexual abuse-associated risk for alcohol consumption and dependence. Addiction Biology, 2010; 15:1-11. Epub 2009 Oct 29. PMC3068622.   Full Article ->

Mac Donald CL, Johnson AM, Cooper D, Nelson EC, Werner NJ, Shimony JS, Snyder AZ, Raichle ME, Witherow JR, Fang R, Flaherty SF, Brody DL. Detection of blast-related traumatic brain injury in US Military personnel (In press: New England Journal of Medicine)


Funded Research Projects
NIAAA(Key Personnel): MARC: Risk Mechanisms in Alcoholism and Comorbidity
NIAAA(Key Personnel): Alcohol Use Disorder in Young Women: Genetic Epidemiology: MOAFTS Wave 7
NIDA(Key Personnel):Cannabis and Other Illicit Drug Use: A Twin Study
NIAAA(Key Personnel):Alcoholism: Epidemiologic High Risk Family Study - MOFAM
NIDA(Key Personnel):Gene Environment in Outcomes of Offspring of Twins with Substance Use Disorders
NIAAA(Key Personnel):Parental Alcoholism & Child Environmental Risk
NIDA(Key Personnel):Genetic Epidemiology of Opioid Dependence in Bulgaria
Department of Defense(Key Personnel): Advanced MRI in Acute Military TBI