Childhood emotional and sexual maltreatment moderate the relation of the serotonin transporter gene to stress generation.

Research paper by Kate L KL Harkness, R Michael RM Bagby, Jeremy G JG Stewart, Cherie L CL Larocque, Raegan R Mazurka, John S JS Strauss, Arun A Ravindran, Neil A NA Rector, Katherine E KE Wynne-Edwards, James L JL Kennedy

Indexed on: 03 Feb '15Published on: 03 Feb '15Published in: Journal of abnormal psychology


Emerging evidence suggests that the tendency to generate stressful life events may be, at least in part, genetically determined. However, the role of the early environment in shaping responses to later stressors is crucial to fully specifying biogenetic models of stress generation. The current study examined the moderating role of childhood emotional, physical, and sexual maltreatment on the relation of the serotonin-transporter-linked promoter region (5-HTTLPR) polymorphism of the serotonin transporter gene to proximal independent, dependent, and dependent-interpersonal life events. This question was tested in a cross-sectional community sample of 297 adolescents and young adults. Childhood maltreatment history and proximal life events were assessed with state-of-the-art interviews that provide independent and standardized ratings of the environmental context. Consistent with the stress generation hypothesis, individuals with the risk s-allele of the serotonin transporter gene reported significantly higher rates of dependent and dependent-interpersonal life events than those homozygous for the l-allele, but only in the context of a history of maternal emotional maltreatment or sexual maltreatment. Neither serotonin transporter gene polymorphisms or childhood maltreatment, or their interaction, were associated with reports of independent life events. The current results demonstrate the importance of considering specificity in the early environmental context when examining the relation of genetic factors to the generation of proximal stress.