Dopaminergic, serotonergic, and oxytonergic candidate genes associated with infant attachment security and disorganization? In search of main and interaction effects

Authors

  • Maartje P.C.M. Luijk,

    1. Center for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
    2. The Generation R Study Group, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    3. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus University Medical Center-Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Glenn I. Roisman,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA
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  • John D. Haltigan,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA
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  • Henning Tiemeier,

    1. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus University Medical Center-Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    2. Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Cathryn Booth-LaForce,

    1. Department of Family & Child Nursing, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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  • Marinus H. van IJzendoorn,

    1. Center for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
    2. Erasmus School of Pedagogical and Educational Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam
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  • Jay Belsky,

    1. Department of Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
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  • Andre G. Uitterlinden,

    1. Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    2. Department of Internal Medicine, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    3. Department of Clinical Genetics, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    4. Netherlands Genomics Initiative (NGI)-sponsored Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Aging (NCHA), Leiden, The Netherlands
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  • Vincent W.V. Jaddoe,

    1. The Generation R Study Group, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    2. Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    3. Department of Pediatrics, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Albert Hofman,

    1. Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Frank C. Verhulst,

    1. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus University Medical Center-Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Anne Tharner,

    1. Center for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
    2. The Generation R Study Group, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    3. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus University Medical Center-Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

    1. Center for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
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  • Conflict of interest statement: All authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.

Abstract

Background and methods:  In two birth cohort studies with genetic, sensitive parenting, and attachment data of more than 1,000 infants in total, we tested main and interaction effects of candidate genes involved in the dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin systems (DRD4, DRD2, COMT, 5-HTT, OXTR) on attachment security and disorganization. Parenting was assessed using observational rating scales for parental sensitivity (Ainsworth, Bell, & Stayton, 1974), and infant attachment was assessed with the Strange Situation Procedure.

Results:  We found no consistent additive genetic associations for attachment security and attachment disorganization. However, specific tests revealed evidence for a codominant risk model for COMT Val158Met, consistent across both samples. Children with the Val/Met genotype showed higher disorganization scores (combined effect size = .22, CI = .10–.34, < .001). Gene-by-environment interaction effects were not replicable across the two samples.

Conclusions:  This unexpected finding might be explained by a broader range of plasticity in heterozygotes, which may increase susceptibility to environmental influences or to dysregulation of emotional arousal. This study is unique in combining the two largest attachment cohorts with molecular genetic and observed rearing environment data to date.

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