06:20am Tuesday 26 May 2020

Genetic link to emotional problems

Gene and environment interactions are a burgeoning area of scientific research and an increasing body of evidence demonstrates that children who are victims of bullying are at risk of developing emotional problems including depression. However, not all children who are bullied go on to develop such problems. Whether a gene variant could contribute to emotional disturbance in children who are bullied is the focus of the study reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Dr Karen Sugden at the IoP, and colleagues, report on the findings in a study sample of 2,232 same-sex five year-old twins. Home visit-assessments were conducted in 1999-2000 when the children were five years of age, and follow-up assessments were made at 12 years of age. The children were evaluated for emotional problems reported by their mothers and teachers. In addition to interviews, DNA samples acquired via buccal swabs were evaluated to determine the presence or absence of the genetic variation under investigation.

The researchers observed that genetic differences in the 5-HTTLPR gene, specifically the SS genotype, interact with bullying victimization to exacerbate emotional problems. The strength of this genetically influenced response is related to the frequency of the bullying experience; the gene and environment interaction being strongest for frequently bullied children.

Dr Sugden said: This genetic moderation persists after controlling for children’s previctimization emotional problems and for other risk factors shared by children growing up within the same family environment. Our findings are consistent with previous studies that indicate that SS genotype victims of relational aggression are prone to depression. 

‘Our research could lead to public health interventions, for example greater efforts to decrease bullying, that may lower the prevalence of child psychopathology,’ she concluded.

Notes to editors

About the study
This study was supported by the UK Medical Research Council grants and National Institutes of Health (USA).

The study entitled, “The Serotonin Transporter Gene Moderates the Development of Emotional Problems Among Children Following Bullying Victimization” is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (August 2010) and online at www.jaacap.org.

King’s College London
King’s College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2009) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King’s has nearly 23,000 students (of whom more than 8,600 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 5,500 employees. King’s is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King’s has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.

King’s has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.

King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King’s Health Partners. King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world’s leading research-led universities and three of London’s most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.

Further information
Erin Seymour
Communications Officer
Institute of Psychiatry
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 020 7848 5377

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