Introduction: Changes in the DNA methylation of 5-HTTLPR are associated with the pathophysiology of panic disorder (PD). This study was conducted to investigate the association between stressful life events and the level of 5-HTTLPR methylation in patients with PD. We also examined whether these factors were associated with white matter alterations in psychological trauma-related regions. Methods: The participants comprised 232 patients with PD and 93 healthy adults of Korean descent. DNA methylation levels of five cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) sites in the 5-HTTLPR region were analyzed. Voxel-wise statistical analysis of diffusion tensor imaging data was performed within the trauma-related regions. Results: PD patients showed significantly lower levels of the DNA methylation at 5-HTTLPR 5 CpG sites than healthy controls. In patients with PD, the DNA methylation levels at 5-HTTLPR 5 CpG sites showed significant negative association with the parental separation-related psychological distress, and positive correlations with the fractional anisotropy values of the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) which might be related to trait anxiety. Conclusion: Early life stress was significantly associated with DNA methylation levels at 5-HTTLPR related to the decreased white matter integrity in the SLF region in PD. Decreased white matter connectivity in the SLF might be related to trait anxiety and is vital to the pathophysiology of PD.

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