Are genetic variations in OXTR, AVPR1A, and CD38 genes important to social integration? Results from two large US cohorts

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, United States. Electronic address: .
Psychoneuroendocrinology (Impact Factor: 4.94). 10/2013; 39(1). DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.09.024
Source: PubMed


Some evidence suggests that genetic polymorphisms in oxytocin pathway genes influence various social behaviors, but findings thus far have been mixed. Many studies have been based in small samples and there is possibility of publication bias. Using data from 2 large U.S. prospective cohorts with over 11,000 individuals, we investigated 88 SNPs in OXTR, AVPR1A, and CD38, in relation to social integration (measured as social connectedness in both binary and continuous forms and being continuously married). After correction for multiple testing only one SNP in CD38 (rs12644506) was significantly associated with social integration and that SNP predicted when using a dichotomized indicator of social connectedness (adjusted p=0.02), but not a continuous measure of social connectedness or the continuously married outcome. A significant gender-heterogeneous effect was identified in one OXTR SNP on dichotomized social connectedness; specifically, rs4686302 T allele was nominally associated with social connectedness in men, whereas the association direction was opposite in women (adjusted gender heterogeneity p=0.02). Furthermore, the rs53576 A allele was significantly associated with social connectedness only in women, and the effect magnitude was stronger in a dominant genetic model (adjusted p=0.003). In summary, our findings suggested that common genetic variants of OXTR, CD38, and AVPR1A are not associated with social integration as measured in this study using the simplified Berkman-Syme Social Network Index, but these findings and other work hint that effects may be modified by gender or other social experiences. Further work considering genetic pathways in relation to social integration may be more fruitful if these additional factors can be more comprehensively evaluated.

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    • "Individuals homozygous for the G allele of OXTR variant rs53576, who are hypothesized to be more sensitive to the effects of oxytocin, exhibit less stress and greater empathic accuracy after being directed to attend to others' feelings (Rodrigues, Saslow, Garcia, John, & Keltner, 2009) and engage in more charitable behavior under conditions of perceived social threat (Poulin et al., 2012) than do others. In contrast, however, OXTR variants have not been shown to predict social integration in a large community sample (Chang et al., 2014). It is important to note that the role of OXTR variant rs53576 may differ by ethnicity, with some evidence indicating that it predicts social behavior in European American (White) individuals but not for members of other ethnic groups (Kim et al., 2010; Poulin et al., 2012). "
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