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Keywords:

  • Gene × environment interaction;
  • 5-HTTLPR;
  • life satisfaction;
  • neuroticism;
  • personality;
  • positive life-events;
  • stressful life-events

The S-allele of the 5-HTTLPR has been identified as a genetic vulnerability factor, being associated with an increased risk for affective disorders and/or maladaptive traits (e.g. neuroticism), especially after exposition to negative life-events (LEs). Alternatively, it has been hypothesized that this genetic risk factor might constitute a genetic plasticity factor. That is, S-allele carriers are not only vulnerable to the negative effects of a preponderance of stressful LEs but also disproportionally benefit from a preponderance of positive environmental influences. We tested this hypothesis in 357 subjects who were genotyped for the 5-HTTLPR and provided self-reports of neuroticism, life-satisfaction and LEs. Results showed a relatively increased number of positive LEss to be associated with reduced neuroticism (men: β = −0.501, P < 0.05, women: β = −0.369, P < 0.005) and increased life satisfaction (β = 0.494, P < 0.001) within SS-homozygotes. Within SL-heterozygotes, similar tendencies were found. No associations were detected in LL-homozygotes. Extreme Group comparisons revealed a genotype × LE interaction (F2,198 = 5.593, P < 0.005), with SS-homozygotes having experienced predominantly positive LEs exhibiting reduced neuroticism (women: F1,34 = 4.764, P < 0.05; men: F1,17 = 2.092, P = 0.17), and increased life satisfaction (F1,53 = 4.057, P < 0.05), as compared to LL-homozygotes having experienced predominantly positive LEs. Our data support the idea that the S-allele of the 5-HTTLPR is associated with an overall increased reactivity to environmental influences, be they positive or negative in nature. These findings constitute a promising add-on to earlier data and support the plasticity hypothesis.