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Concept: 5-HTTLPR


Polymorphisms in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) and exposure to early childhood adversities (CA) are independently associated with individual differences in cognitive and emotional processing. Whether these two factors interact to influence cognitive and emotional processing is not known.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Promoter, RNA polymerase, Childhood, Neuroticism, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


The hypothesis that the S allele of the 5-HTTLPR serotonin transporter promoter region is associated with increased risk of depression, but only in individuals exposed to stressful situations, has generated much interest, research and controversy since first proposed in 2003. Multiple meta-analyses combining results from heterogeneous analyses have not settled the issue. To determine the magnitude of the interaction and the conditions under which it might be observed, we performed new analyses on 31 data sets containing 38 802 European ancestry subjects genotyped for 5-HTTLPR and assessed for depression and childhood maltreatment or other stressful life events, and meta-analysed the results. Analyses targeted two stressors (narrow, broad) and two depression outcomes (current, lifetime). All groups that published on this topic prior to the initiation of our study and met the assessment and sample size criteria were invited to participate. Additional groups, identified by consortium members or self-identified in response to our protocol (published prior to the start of analysis) with qualifying unpublished data, were also invited to participate. A uniform data analysis script implementing the protocol was executed by each of the consortium members. Our findings do not support the interaction hypothesis. We found no subgroups or variable definitions for which an interaction between stress and 5-HTTLPR genotype was statistically significant. In contrast, our findings for the main effects of life stressors (strong risk factor) and 5-HTTLPR genotype (no impact on risk) are strikingly consistent across our contributing studies, the original study reporting the interaction and subsequent meta-analyses. Our conclusion is that if an interaction exists in which the S allele of 5-HTTLPR increases risk of depression only in stressed individuals, then it is not broadly generalisable, but must be of modest effect size and only observable in limited situations.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 4 April 2017; doi:10.1038/mp.2017.44.

Concepts: Scientific method, Gene, Statistical significance, Effect size, Meta-analysis, Statistical power, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of postneonatal infant mortality, likely comprises heterogeneous disorders with the common phenotype of sudden death without explanation upon postmortem investigation. Previously, we reported that ∼40% of SIDS deaths are associated with abnormalities in serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) in regions of the brainstem critical in homeostatic regulation. Here we tested the hypothesis that SIDS is associated with an alteration in serum 5-HT levels. Serum 5-HT, adjusted for postconceptional age, was significantly elevated (95%) in SIDS infants (n = 61) compared with autopsied controls (n = 15) [SIDS, 177.2 ± 15.1 (mean ± SE) ng/mL versus controls, 91.1 ± 30.6 ng/mL] (P = 0.014), as determined by ELISA. This increase was validated using high-performance liquid chromatography. Thirty-one percent (19/61) of SIDS cases had 5-HT levels greater than 2 SDs above the mean of the controls, thus defining a subset of SIDS cases with elevated 5-HT. There was no association between genotypes of the serotonin transporter promoter region polymorphism and serum 5-HT level. This study demonstrates that SIDS is associated with peripheral abnormalities in the 5-HT pathway. High serum 5-HT may serve as a potential forensic biomarker in autopsied infants with SIDS with serotonergic defects.

Concepts: Death, Chromatography, High performance liquid chromatography, Infant mortality, Serotonin, Sudden infant death syndrome, Infancy, 5-HTTLPR


Galanin is a stress-inducible neuropeptide and cotransmitter in serotonin and norepinephrine neurons with a possible role in stress-related disorders. Here we report that variants in genes for galanin (GAL) and its receptors (GALR1, GALR2, GALR3), despite their disparate genomic loci, conferred increased risk of depression and anxiety in people who experienced childhood adversity or recent negative life events in a European white population cohort totaling 2,361 from Manchester, United Kingdom and Budapest, Hungary. Bayesian multivariate analysis revealed a greater relevance of galanin system genes in highly stressed subjects compared with subjects with moderate or low life stress. Using the same method, the effect of the galanin system genes was stronger than the effect of the well-studied 5-HTTLPR polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4). Conventional multivariate analysis using general linear models demonstrated that interaction of galanin system genes with life stressors explained more variance (1.7%, P = 0.005) than the life stress-only model. This effect replicated in independent analysis of the Manchester and Budapest subpopulations, and in males and females. The results suggest that the galanin pathway plays an important role in the pathogenesis of depression in humans by increasing the vulnerability to early and recent psychosocial stress. Correcting abnormal galanin function in depression could prove to be a novel target for drug development. The findings further emphasize the importance of modeling environmental interaction in finding new genes for depression.

Concepts: Gene, Serotonin, Major depressive disorder, Amphetamine, Neuroticism, Galanin receptor, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


Life financial outcomes carry a significant heritable component, but the mechanisms by which genes influence financial choices remain unclear. Focusing on a polymorphism in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR), we found that individuals possessing the short allele of this gene invested less in equities, were less engaged in actively making investment decisions, and had fewer credit lines. Short allele carriers also showed higher levels of the personality trait neuroticism, despite not differing from others with respect to cognitive skills, education, or wealth. Mediation analysis suggested that the presence of the 5-HTTLPR short allele decreased real life measures of financial risk taking through its influence on neuroticism. These findings show that 5-HTTLPR short allele carriers avoid risky and complex financial choices due to negative emotional reactions, and have implications for understanding and managing individual differences in financial choice.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Risk, Investment, Neuroticism, Finance, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


The serotonin transporter (5-HTT) is abundantly expressed in humans by the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 and removes serotonin (5-HT) from extracellular space. A blood-brain relationship between platelet and synaptosomal 5-HT reuptake has been suggested, but it is unknown today, if platelet 5-HT uptake can predict neural activation of human brain networks that are known to be under serotonergic influence.

Concepts: Neuron, Serotonin, Solute carrier family, Major depressive disorder, Amphetamine, Neuroticism, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


Shift-working nurses are exposed to a stressful work environment, which puts them at an increased risk for burnout and depression. We explored the effect of environmental stress on serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) promoter methylation among nurses from high and low work stress environments.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Promoter, Transcription, Serotonin, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


There is growing evidence that the serotonin system influences prosocial behavior. We examined whether anxiety mediated the association between variation in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region (5-HTTLPR) and prosocial behavior. We collected self-reported tendencies to avoid certain situations and history of helping others using standard instruments and buccal cells for standard 5-HTTLPR genotyping from 398 undergraduate students. Triallelic 5-HTTLPR genotype was significantly associated with prosocial behavior and the effect was partially mediated by social anxiety, such that those carrying the S' allele reported higher levels of social avoidance and lower rates of helping others. These results are consistent with accounts of the role of serotonin on anxiety and prosocial behavior and suggest that targeted efforts to reduce social anxiety in S' allele carriers may enhance prosocial behavior.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Serotonin, Neuroticism, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


Stress exposure during gestation is implicated in several neuropsychiatric conditions, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Previous research showed that prenatal stress increases risk for ASD with peak exposure during the end of the second and the beginning of the third trimester. However, exposures to prenatal stress do not always result in ASD, suggesting that other factors may interact with environmental stressors to increase ASD risk. The present study examined a maternal genetic variation in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) affecting stress tolerance and its interaction with the effect of environmental stressors on risk for ASD. Two independent cohorts of mothers of ASD children recruited by the University of Missouri and Queen’s University were surveyed regarding the prenatal environment and genotyping on 5-HTTLPR was performed to explore this relationship. In both samples, mothers of children with ASD carrying the stress susceptible short allele variant of 5-HTTLPR experienced a greater number of stressors and greater stress severity when compared to mothers carrying the long allele variant. The temporal peak of stressors during gestation in these mothers was consistent with previous findings. Additionally, increased exposure to prenatal stress was not reported in the pregnancies of typically developing siblings from the same mothers, regardless of maternal genotype, suggesting against the possibility that the short allele might increase the recall of stress during pregnancy. The present study provides further evidence of a specific maternal polymorphism that may affect the risk for ASD with exposure to prenatal stress. Autism Res 2016. © 2016 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Gene, Pregnancy, Genetics, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR


The serotonin transporter-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) has been previously associated with alcohol-related risk. Most findings point to short (S) allele carriers being at increased risk for negative alcohol outcomes relative to long allele homozygotes, although some work indicates a more complex relationship. The current prospective study aimed to clarify how and under what circumstances variations in 5-HTTLPR transmit risk for various alcohol-related outcomes. Participants were 218 adolescents and young adults (29% female) enrolled in the Michigan Longitudinal Study. We tested a moderated mediation model with 5-HTTLPR as the predictor, Self-Rating of the Effects of Alcohol (SRE) score as the mediator, alcohol-related outcomes as the dependent variables, parental monitoring as the moderator of the SRE to alcohol outcomes path, and prior drinks, sex, age, and body mass index as covariates. Four alcohol-related outcomes were tested. The S allele was associated with higher SRE scores (i.e., lower response to alcohol). Parental monitoring was a significant moderator: At low levels of parental monitoring, higher SRE scores predicted more drinks consumed and binge drinking episodes. At high levels of monitoring, higher SRE scores were significantly related to fewer alcohol-related problems. Findings suggest that one mechanism by which 5-HTTLPR variation transmits alcohol-related risk is through level of response to alcohol. Furthermore, the strength and direction of this effect varied by level of parental monitoring, indicating that even in the presence of genetic and physiological vulnerability, parents can influence the likelihood of offspring developing problematic alcohol-related behaviors.

Concepts: Genetics, Body mass index, Neuroticism, Drinking culture, Binge drinking, Serotonin transporter, 5-HTTLPR, DASB