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Keywords:

  • Whole Blood Serotonin (5-HT);
  • Behavioral Disinhibition;
  • Negative Affect;
  • Children of Alcoholics;
  • Biological Markers

Background: Serotonergic (5-HT) dysfunction has been implicated in both behavioral disinhibition and negative affect in adults. Although our group's previous work found decreased whole blood 5-HT in high versus low behavior problem children of alcoholics, some child/adolescent studies report conflicting results, and 5-HTs role in negative affect has been largely unexamined. Age-related developmental factors may play a role in these relationships.

Methods: This report is from an ongoing prospective study of the development of risk for alcohol abuse/dependence and other problematic outcomes in a sample of families subtyped by father's alcoholism classification. The present study extends previous work and examines relationships between whole blood 5-HT and both child behavioral disinhibition (an aggression index from the Child Behavior Checklist) and negative affect (Child Behavior Checklist Anxious/Depressed scale) in offspring from 47 families (N= 45 boys and 17 girls; mean age = 10.88 ± 2.03 yr).

Results: The most important finding was that puberty moderated relationships between 5-HT and both behavioral disinhibition and negative affect with a relationship for pubescent children (n= 14, r= -0.54, p= 0.05;r= -0.57,p= 0.04, respectively) but no relationship for prepubescent children (n= 48,r= 0.05, p= 0.75; r= -0.15,p= 0.31, respectively).

Conclusions: The moderating effects of puberty may help clarify inconsistencies in child/adolescent literature. Furthermore, there appears to be a relationship between 5-HT and negative affect which parallels that between 5-HT and behavioral disinhibition. Pubertal status may be an important variable to evaluate as a moderator in relation to the developmental context of the role 5-HT dysfunction may play in various models of behavior related to alcoholism over the early life course.