Allelic Variation of Human Serotonin Transporter Gene Expression


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. K. P. Lesch at Department of Psychiatry, University of Würzburg, Füchsleinstrasse 15, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany.


Abstract: Mood, emotion, cognition, and motor functions as well as circadian and neuroendocrine rhythms, including food intake, sleep, and reproductive activity, are modulated by the midbrain raphe serotonin (5-HT) system. By directing the magnitude and duration of postsynaptic responses, carrier-facilitated 5-HT transport into and release from the presynaptic neuron are essential for the fine tuning of serotonergic neurotransmission. Interest in the mechanism of environmental factor-, disease-, and therapy-induced modification of 5-HT transporter (5-HTT) function and its impact on early brain development, event-related synaptic plasticity, and neurodegeneration is widespread and intensifying. We have recently characterized the human and murine 5-HTT genes and performed functional analyses of their 5′-flanking regulatory regions. A tandemly repeated sequence associated with the transcriptional apparatus of the human 5-HTT gene displays a complex secondary structure, represses promoter activity in nonserotonergic neuronal cells, and contains positive regulatory components. We now report a novel polymorphism of this repetitive element and provide evidence for allele-dependent differential 5-HTT promoter activity. Allelic variation in 5-HTT-related functions may play a role in the expression and modulation of complex traits and behavior.