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Keywords:

  • Dopamine;
  • DRD1;
  • DRD2;
  • haplotypes;
  • heterosis;
  • maternal behavior;
  • parental sensitivity;
  • SNPs

The dopamine pathway and especially the dopamine receptors 1 and 2 (DRD1 and DRD2) are implicated in the regulation of mothering in rats. Evidence for this in humans is lacking. Here, we show that genetic variation in both DRD1 and DRD2 genes in a sample of 187 Caucasian mothers predicts variation in distinct maternal behaviors during a 30-min mother–infant interaction at 6 months postpartum. Two DRD1 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs rs265981 and rs686) significantly associated with maternal orienting away from the infant (P = 0.002 and P = 0.003, respectively), as did DRD1 haplotypes (P = 0.03). Two DRD2 SNPs (rs1799732 and rs6277) significantly associated with maternal infant-directed vocalizing (P = 0.001 and P = 0.04, respectively), as did DRD2 haplotypes (P = 0.01). We present evidence for heterosis in DRD1 where heterozygote mothers orient away from their infants significantly less than either homozygote group. Our findings provide important evidence that genetic variation in receptors critical for mothering in non-human species also affect human maternal behaviors. The findings also highlight the importance of exploring multiple dimensions of the complex human mothering phenotype.