Are infants differentially sensitive to parenting? Early maternal care, DRD4 genotype and externalizing behavior during adolescence.J Psychiatr Res. 2014 Dec; 59:53-9.JP
Insensitive and unresponsive caregiving during infancy has been linked to externalizing behavior problems during childhood and adolescence. The 7-repeat (7r) allele of the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) gene has meta-analytically been associated with a heightened susceptibility to adverse as well as supportive environments. In the present study, we examined long-term effects of early maternal care, DRD4 genotype and the interaction thereof on externalizing and internalizing psychopathology during adolescence. As part of an ongoing epidemiological cohort study, early maternal care was assessed at child's age 3 months during a nursing and playing situation. In a sample of 296 offspring, externalizing and internalizing symptoms were assessed using a psychiatric interview conducted at age 15 years. Parents additionally filled out a questionnaire on their children's psychopathic behaviors. Results indicated that adolescents with the DRD4 7r allele who experienced less responsive and stimulating early maternal care exhibited more symptoms of ADHD and CD/ODD as well as higher levels of psychopathic behavior. In accordance with the hypothesis of differential susceptibility, 7r allele carriers showed fewer ADHD symptoms and lower levels of psychopathic behavior when exposed to especially beneficial early caregiving. In contrast, individuals without the DRD4 7r allele proved to be insensitive to the effects of early maternal care. This study replicates earlier findings with regard to an interaction between DRD4 genotype and early caregiving on externalizing behavior problems in preschoolers. It is the first one to imply continuity of this effect until adolescence.