Social supports and serotonin transporter gene moderate depression in maltreated children

Joan Kaufman, Bao Zhu Yang, Heather Douglas-Palumberi, Shadi Houshyar, Deborah Lipschitz, John H. Krystal, Joel Gelernter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

628 Scopus citations


In this study, measures of the quality and availability of social supports were found to moderate risk for depression associated with a history of maltreatment and the presence of the short (s) allele of the serotonin transporter gene promoter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR). The present investigation (i) replicates research in adults showing that 5-HTTLPR variation moderates the development of depression after stress, (ii) extends the finding to children, and (iii) demonstrates the ability of social supports to further moderate risk for depression. Maltreated children with the s/s genotype and no positive supports had the highest depression ratings, scores that were twice as high as the non-maltreated comparison children with the same genotype. However, the presence of positive supports reduced risk associated with maltreatment and the s/s genotype, such that maltreated children with this profile had only minimal increases in their depression scores. These findings are consistent with emerging preclinical and clinical data suggesting that the negative sequelae associated with early stress are not inevitable. Risk for negative outcomes may be modified by both genetic and environmental factors, with the quality and availability of social supports among the most important environmental factors in promoting resiliency in maltreated children, even in the presence of a genotype expected to confer vulnerability for psychiatric disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17316-17321
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 7 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Child maltreatment
  • Gene-by-environment interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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