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Genetic variation in the serotonin transporter modulates neural system-wide response to fearful faces

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-551
Number of pages9
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008

King's Authors


A distributed, serotonergically innervated neural system comprising extrastriate cortex, amygdala and ventral prefrontal cortex is critical for identification of socially relevant emotive stimuli. The extent to which a genetic variation of serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR impacts functional connectivity between the amygdala and the other components of this neural system remains little examined. In our study, neural activity was measured using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging in 29 right-handed, white Caucasian healthy subjects as they viewed mild or prototypical fearful and neutral facial expressions. 5-HTTLPR genotype was classified as homozygous for the short allele (S/S), homozygous for the long allele (L/L) or heterozygous (S/L). S/S showed greater activity than L/L within right fusiform gyrus (FG) to prototypically fearful faces. To these fearful faces, S/S more than other genotype subgroups showed significantly greater positive functional connectivity between right amygdala and FG and between right FG and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). There was a positive association between measure of psychoticism and degree of functional connectivity between right FG and right VLPFC in response to prototypically fearful faces. Our data are the first to show that genotypic variation in 5-HTTLPR modulates both the amplitude within and the functional connectivity between different components of the visual object-processing neural system to emotionally salient stimuli. These effects may underlie the vulnerability to mood and anxiety disorders potentially triggered by socially salient, emotional cues in individuals with the S allele of 5-HTTLPR.

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