Oxytocin receptor (OXTR) and serotonin transporter (5-HTT) genes associated with observed parenting

Centre for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, PO Box 9555, NL-2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 07/2008; 3(2):128-34. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsn004
Source: PubMed


Both oxytocin and serotonin modulate affiliative responses to partners and offspring. Animal studies suggest a crucial role of oxytocin in mammalian parturition and lactation but also in parenting and social interactions with offspring. The serotonergic system may also be important through its influence on mood and the release of oxytocin. We examined the role of serotonin transporter (5-HTT) and oxytocin receptor (OXTR) genes in explaining differences in sensitive parenting in a community sample of 159 Caucasian, middle-class mothers with their 2-year-old toddlers at risk for externalizing behavior problems, taking into account maternal educational level, maternal depression and the quality of the marital relationship. Independent genetic effects of 5-HTTLPR SCL6A4 and OXTR rs53576 on observed maternal sensitivity were found. Controlling for differences in maternal education, depression and marital discord, parents with the possibly less efficient variants of the serotonergic (5-HTT ss) and oxytonergic (AA/AG) system genes showed lower levels of sensitive responsiveness to their toddlers. Two-way and three-way interactions with marital discord or depression were not significant. This first study on the role of both OXTR and 5-HTT genes in human parenting points to molecular genetic differences that may be implicated in the production of oxytocin explaining differences in sensitive parenting.

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Available from: Marinus H. van IJzendoorn
    • "For example, more than 30 single nucleotide polymorphisms (i.e., DNA sequence variation occurring when a single nucleotide—A, T, C or G—differs among members of a population) are known in the OXTR gene region (Israel et al., 2008). OXTR gene polymorphisms have been associated with several social behaviors, including empathy (Rodrigues, Saslow, Garcia, John, & Keltner, 2009), prosociality (Kogan et al., 2011), and both maternal (Francis, Young, Meaney, & Insel, 2002) and paternal sensitivity (Bakermans-Kranenburg & van Ijzendoorn, 2008). While results from captive studies are intriguing, little if any work has focused on the links between OXTR variation and personality in the wild. "
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    • "Although its molecular mechanisms are unknown, OXTR rs53576 has been associated with differences in amygdala activation and in hypothalamic structure (Tost et al. 2010). Behaviorally, individuals homozygous for the G-allele of OXTR rs53576 show more sensitive parenting behavior (Bakermans-Kranenburg & van IJzendoorn 2008), more responsiveness to infant crying (Riem et al. 2011), more prosocial temperament (Tost et al. 2010), and greater empathic accuracy (Rodrigues et al. 2009). 5HTR1A and SERT are both involved in serotonin signaling. "
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    • "Based on these behavioral differences, we conducted a geneculture interaction study in which Korean and American participants indicated their tendency to regulate their emotions using suppression, and we determined their genotype for an oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR rs53576) (Kim et al. 2011). The G allele of OXTR rs53576 is associated with more sensitive parenting behavior (Bakermans-Kranenburg & van IJzendoorn 2008), greater sensitivity to infant crying (Riem et al. 2011), more empathic accuracy (Rodrigues et al. 2009), and less loneliness (Lucht et al. 2009) compared with the adenine (A) allele. The results of this study showed the expected interaction between culture and OXTR (Kim et al. 2011). "
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