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Development of depression: sex and the interaction between environment and a promoter polymorphism of the serotonin transporter gene

Rickard L. Sjöberg, Kent W. Nilsson, Niklas Nordquist, John Öhrvik, Jerzy Leppert, Leif Lindström, Lars Oreland
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1461145705005936 443-449 First published online: 1 August 2006

Abstract

Previous research has demonstrated that a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) and adverse psychosocial circumstances interact to predict depression. The purpose of the present study was to explore the extent to which sex modulates these effects. Eighty-one boys and 119 girls (16–19 years old) were interviewed about psychosocial background variables and genotyped for the 5-HTT promoter polymorphism. There were two main results. First, boys and girls carrying the short 5-HTTLPR allele react to different kinds of environmental factors. Whereas males were affected by living in public housing rather than in own owned homes and by living with separated parents, females were affected by traumatic conflicts within the family. Second, the responses of males and females carrying the short 5-HTTLPR allele to environmental stress factors go in opposite directions. Thus, whereas females tend to develop depressive symptoms, males seem to be protected from depression. The results suggest that both the molecular and the psychosocial mechanisms underlying depression may differ between boys and girls.

Key words
  • Depression
  • gene–environment interaction
  • genotype
  • phenotype
  • sex characteristics