Evidence For Genetic Effects On The Behavior Of Normal Two-Week Old Babies

May 25, 1998

Dopamine D4 receptor and serotonin transporter promoter in the determination of neonatal temperament RP Ebstein, J Levine, V Geller, J Auerbach, I Gritsenko, RH Belmaker Research Laboratory, S. Herzog Memorial Hospital, P.O. Box 35300, Jerusalem 91351, Israel; Beersheva Mental Health Center, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, P.O. box 4600, Beersheva, Israel; Department of Behavioral Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Many of the known human genes exist in variant or polymorphic forms that are distributed frequently in the general population. Some, but not all, recent studies have shown a contribution of such common genetic polymorphisms to the determination of adult human personality traits, especially novelty or sensation seeking and harm avoidance or neuroticism. Since marked deviations in adult personality traits might be potential risk factors for some psychiatric disorders such as alcoholism and depression, early identification of deviations in these temperaments might be important in the design of intervention strategies. A group of Israeli scientists reports in the current issue of Molecular Psychiatry (http://www.stockton-press.co.uk/mp/) on a study in which they used the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) to examine the contribution of the so-called novelty seeking' and the 'neuroticism' genes to the behavioral responses of 81 two-week old babies. Prof. Brazelton of Harvard Medical School designed the NBAS in order to evaluate the kind of person the newborn baby is. It assesses the baby's behavioral repertoire as he responds to human and non-human stimuli. The way the baby uses states of consciousness to control his or her responses reveals the baby's capacity to respond to his new environment. A statistically significant association was observed of variants of the dopamine D4 receptor gene previously shown by some investigators to be related to 'novelty seeking' across four behavioral clusters pertinent to newborn temperament. The effect of the short variant of the serotonin transporter gene promoter, which some investigators have found to be associated with 'neuroticism,' in those infants was to lower their NBAS orientation scores. Orientation may be understood as an active, attentive and searching process for infants, perhaps a neonatal precursor to adult novelty seeking behavior. In infants as in adults, personality appears, therefore, to be partially determined by the developmental interaction between underlying genetic mechanisms contributing respectively to behavioral activation and inhibition. This study further suggests that it might be possible in the future, by combining very early in life genetic and behavioral tests, to detect antecedents of adult personality traits allowing clinicians and parents to more intelligently guide the newborn's psychological development.

For information on this Molecular Psychiatry article, please contact the author:
Dr. Richard P. Ebstein
at the Research Laboratory
S. Herzog Memorial Hospital
P.O. Box 35300
Jerusalem 91351
Tel: 972-2-5316855
Fax: 972-2-5316853
reference:Molecular Psychiatry 1998; 3 (May): in press

This article is from the May 1998 issue of Molecular Psychiatry, an independent peer-reviewed journal published by Stockton Press-Macmillan Press.

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Molecular Psychiatry

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