Oxytocin Receptor (OXTR) Polymorphisms and Attachment in Human Infants

Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg Freiburg, Germany.
Frontiers in Psychology (Impact Factor: 2.8). 08/2011; 2:200. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00200
Source: PubMed


Ordinary variations in human infants' attachment behaviors - their proclivity to seek and accept comfort from caregivers - are associated with a wide range of individual differences in psychological functioning in adults. The current investigation examined variation in the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene as one possible source of these variations in infant attachment. One hundred seventy-six infants (77 Caucasian, 99 non-Caucasian) were classified as securely or insecurely attached based on their behavior in the Strange Situation (Ainsworth et al., 1978). The A allele of OXTR rs2254298 was associated with attachment security in the non-Caucasian infants (p < 0.005). These findings underscore the importance of oxytocin in the development of human social behavior and support its role in social stress-regulation and the development of trust.

    • "However, these functional differences may be embedded in a complex, multifaceted system involving at least three levels of analysis: (1) the functional activity of the gene product itself; (2) the levels of its expression in different brain circuits or at different times during early childhood , and (3) its differential expression to environmental risk factors (e.g., Chen et al. 2011). A deeper understanding of these neurochemical processes may help clarify the G-E processes involved in early parent-infant interactions that contribute to individual differences in both adaptive and maladaptive socio-emotional development (Chen et al. 2011). Moreover, recent human and animal research (though it cannot be translated directly to humans) suggests involvement of early parenting in epigenetic regulation in the human brain (Gervai 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: Early parenting is rooted in a complex social system where parental characteristics, contextual factors and child characteristics interact over time. A comprehensive study of early parenting should thus consider a variety of factors, including those associated with the infant (so called “child effects”). Understanding such a complex developmental system is a daunting task, and behaviour-genetic studies, because they are designed to test hypotheses regarding gene-environment processes, are very useful in that endeavour. In the past decade, studies using a variety of genetically informative designs, including twin, adoption, step-family and linkage (i.e., molecular) designs, have shed new light on early parenting and the nature of its association with child socio-emotional development. In this chapter, we review this emerging evidence. Specifically, the chapter examines and discusses environmental and genetic influences, as well as their interplay, on infant attachment and various parenting behaviours. Data pointing to “child effects” on parenting behaviours (i.e. gene-environment correlations) are reviewed, as well as evidence of parental influence on child outcomes and its possible mediation through child heritable characteristics. We discuss the significance of these findings for our understanding of the developmental role of early parenting. We conclude with a discussion of methodological concerns, gaps, and future directions regarding behaviour-genetics research in early parenting.
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    • "OXT is a neuropeptide that has been consistently linked to affiliative and social behaviors in preclinical and human studies [14-17]. There is accumulating evidence for the role of altered OXT functioning in the etiology of social impairments in ASDs [18]: atypical levels of plasma OXT and its precursors have been found in children with ASDs [19,20] and exogenous OXT administration has been shown to improve social functioning in children and adults with ASDs [21-23]. "
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    ABSTRACT: There has been significant progress in identifying genes that confer risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). However, the heterogeneity of symptom presentation in ASDs impedes the detection of ASD risk genes. One approach to understanding genetic influences on ASD symptom expression is to evaluate relations between variants of ASD candidate genes and neural endophenotypes in unaffected samples. Allelic variations in the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene confer small but significant risk for ASDs for which the underlying mechanisms may involve associations between variability in oxytocin signaling pathways and neural response to rewards. The purpose of this preliminary study was to investigate the influence of allelic variability in the OXTR gene on neural responses to monetary rewards in healthy adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The moderating effects of three single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) (rs1042778, rs2268493 and rs237887) of the OXTR gene on mesolimbic responses to rewards were evaluated using a monetary incentive delay fMRI task. T homozygotes of the rs2268493 SNP demonstrated relatively decreased activation in mesolimbic reward circuitry (including the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, insula, thalamus and prefrontal cortical regions) during the anticipation of rewards but not during the outcome phase of the task. Allelic variation of the rs1042778 and rs237887 SNPs did not moderate mesolimbic activation during either reward anticipation or outcomes. This preliminary study suggests that the OXTR SNP rs2268493, which has been previously identified as an ASD risk gene, moderates mesolimbic responses during reward anticipation. Given previous findings of decreased mesolimbic activation during reward anticipation in ASD, the present results suggest that OXTR may confer ASD risk via influences on the neural systems that support reward anticipation.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2014 · Molecular Autism
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    • "For example, neurotypical patients’ generosity in response to IN OT is moderated by parental love-withdrawal (Huffmeijer et al., 2012), and patients with aversive early attachment representations had a negative response to IN OT compared to those with more positive representations (Bartz et al., 2010). Other literature suggests that variation in the OT system may mediate gene-environment interactions between early adversity and outcomes (Kim et al., 2010; Bradley et al., 2011; Chen et al., 2011a; Thompson et al., 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: As discussed in the larger review in this special issue (MacDonald and Feifel), intranasal oxytocin (OT) is demonstrating a growing potential as a therapeutic agent in psychiatry. Importantly, research suggests that a variety of individual factors may influence a person's response to OT. In this mini-review, I provide a review of three: (1) sex and hormonal status; (2) genetic variation in aspects of the OT system (i.e., OT receptors); and (3) attachment history. Each of these factors will be important to monitor as we strive to develop a richer understanding of OT's role in human development, brain-based disease, and the potential for individualized, OT-targeted treatments.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2012 · Frontiers in Neuroscience
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