Genetic Risk for Anxiety Does Not Have to be Destiny

Apr 29, 2009

A growing body of basic animal research and studies of abused and neglected children provide a strong basis of support for the hypothesis that individuals with particular genotypes are at greater risk for depression, anxiety disorders, and problems with the abuse of alcohol and other substances.  These gene-by-environment interactions are so powerful that some might assume that these genotypes identify people who are predestined to negative life outcomes.

However, a new study in the May 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/biopsychiat), published by Elsevier, challenges this view.  Investigators studied infant monkeys from four different rearing conditions to examine how social context and different forms of early adversity interact with to influence behavior. 

Animals reared in small social groups were more likely to be aggressive and anxious, particularly among those with a low activity MAOA genotype.  However, no genotype effects were evident in monkeys reared in larger social cages.

There are some circumstances in a child’s development - such as abusive parenting - that everyone would agree constitutes “adversity.”  This study suggests, however, that other, more subtle features of the broader influence development, and that genes that affect our behavioral responses are sensitive to these influences.  So even though an infant may be reared with its nurturing mother, the relative absence of other social partners, for both the mother and the infant, can result in the infant developing an anxious style of responding to challenges, particularly if it possesses a “risky” genotype.

Of particular significance, said senior author John Capitanio, Ph.D., is “that animals that were raised in rich, complex settings with mothers, other kin, and peers, were completely protected from the potentially deleterious effects of having the ‘risky’ form of the MAOA gene.”

Highlighting the importance of this study’s findings, John Krystal, M.D., editor of Biological Psychiatry, noted that “we now urgently need research that can tell us whether genetics can help us to do a better job in matching particular maltreated children to supportive interventions.  It would seem that in the case of some of the negative consequences of childhood maltreatment, genetics is not destiny but it may seem so if society doesn’t provide these children with help that they need.”

More information: The article is “What is an “Adverse” Environment? Interactions of Rearing Experiences and MAOA Genotype in Rhesus Monkeys” by Genesio M. Karere, Erin L. Kinnally, Jessica N. Sanchez, Thomas R. Famula, Leslie A. Lyons, and John P. Capitanio. Authors Karere and Lyons are affiliated with the Department of Population Health and Reproduction, Kinnally and Capitanio are with the Department of Psychology, and Sanchez and Famula are from the Department of Animal Science, all at the University of California, Davis, California. Kinnally, Lyons, and Capitanio are also with the California National Primate Research Center, University of California, Davis, California. Karere is also from the Institute of Primate Research, Nairobi, Kenya. The article appears in , Volume 65, Issue 9 (May 1, 2009), published by Elsevier.

Source: Elsevier

Explore further: Some people may be pre-wired to be bilingual

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Monkey studies important for brain science

May 15, 2008

Studies with non-human primates have made major contributions to our understanding of the brain and will continue to be an important, if small, part of neuroscience research, according to a recent review published in the ...

Maternal love: How a mother's brain responds to her infant

Feb 28, 2008

The distinctive ability of mothers to identify the cries of their offspring is widely evident in nature, where it is critical to the survival of these offspring. In humans, we are aware that the distinctive ability of mothers ...

Genetic links to impaired social behavior in autism

May 13, 2008

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show profound deficits in social interactions and communications, and display repetitive behaviors and abnormal responses to sensory experiences. One aspect of an autistic ...

Treating addiction by eliminating drug-associated memories

Apr 23, 2009

Addicts, even those who have been abstinent for long periods of time, are often still vulnerable to their own memories of prior drug use.  For example, exposure to the same environment in which they commonly used drugs - ...

Recommended for you

Some people may be pre-wired to be bilingual

38 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—Some people's brains seem pre-wired to acquire a second language, new research suggests. But anyone who tries to move beyond their mother tongue will likely gain a brain boost, the small study ...

Elderly brains learn, but maybe too much

9 hours ago

A new study led by Brown University reports that older learners retained the mental flexibility needed to learn a visual perception task but were not as good as younger people at filtering out irrelevant ...

Inpatient psychotherapy is effective in Germany

12 hours ago

Sarah Liebherz (Department of Medical Psychology, University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf) and Sven Rabung (Institute of Psychology, Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt) have examined 59 studies conducted between 1977 ...

A game changer to boost literacy and maths skills

14 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—Finding the best way to teach reading has been an ongoing challenge for decades, especially for those children in underprivileged areas who fail to learn to read. What is the magic ingredient that will ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.