Is There Really A Gene For Personality?

November 01, 1996




AK Malhotra, M Virkunnen, W Rooney, M Eggert, M Linnoila, and D Goldman

Experimental Therapeutics Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA; Department of Psychiatry, University of Helsinki, Finland; Laboratory of Clinical Studies and Laboratory of Neurogenetics, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, MD, USA Molecular Psychiatry 1996; vol. 1, issue 5 (November 1996).

Two recent reports of an association between between a particular form of a gene and the personality trait of 'novelty seeking' have attracted scientific interest as heralding the onset of the identification of genes involved in human personality variation. However, in a study reported in the current issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry researchers at the National Institutes of Health have been unable to confirm these findings in a large study of Finnish subjects.

In particular, the researchers examined a gene that encodes a protein involved in transmission of signals between brain cells. This gene, called DRD4 (for Dopamine Receptor D4), contains a region of DNA that is repeated 2 to 11 times in different individuals. The previous studies found that the 7 repeat form of the DRD4 gene is more frequent in individuals who rate high on 'novelty seeking' scales. Individuals with higher than average 'novelty seeking' scores are described as impulsive, exploratory, excitable, quick-tempered, extravagant and disorderly. Individuals with lower than average 'novelty seeking' scores are more reflective, rigid, loyal, stoic, frugal and orderly. The current study examined two groups of subjects - one a group of psychiatrically screened normal individuals and the second, a group of alcoholics who rated significantly higher than normals on the novelty seeking scale. They found no difference in the frequency of the 7-repeat form between the two groups and in fact, found that the 7-repeat form predisposed to lower novelty seeking scores in the alcoholic group.

This study raises questions about the idea that the DRD4 gene is involved in the personality trait of novelty seeking. Further research work will be needed to elucidate the role of genetic variation in human personality before the claim of a 'personality gene' can be confirmed.


This article will be published in the November issue of Molecular Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal published by Stockton Press/Macmillan Press.

Editor: Julio Licinio, MD
editorial assistant: Rachel Lisman
NIH, Bldg. 10/2D46, 10 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892-1284, USA
phone: (301) 496-6885;
FAX: +1 (301) 402-1561

Publisher: Marija Vukovojac,
phone and FAX: +44 1483 892119
e-mail: 100743.2265@CompuServe.COM

For information on the scientific aspects of the article please contact the author:

Dr. Anil K. Malhotra, Experimental Therapeutics Branch, National Institute of Mental Health,
NIH, Bldg. 10/4N212, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
phone: +1 (301) 402-3234;
FAX: +1 (301) 480-5135

Molecular Psychiatry

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