Neural and behavioral responses to threatening emotion faces in children as a function of the short allele of the serotonin transporter gene

Recent evidence suggests that a genetic polymorphism in the promoter region (5-HTTLPR) of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) mediates stress reactivity in adults. Little is known, however, about this gene-brain association in childhood and adolescence, generally conceptualized as a time of heightened stress reactivity. The present study examines the association between 5-HTTLPR allelic variation and responses to fearful and angry faces presented both sub- and supraliminally in participants, ages 9-17. Behaviorally, carriers of the 5-HTTLPR short (s) allele exhibited significantly greater attentional bias to subliminally presented fear faces than did their long (l)-allele homozygous counterparts. Moreover, s-allele carriers showed greater neural activations to fearful and angry faces than did l-allele homozygotes in various regions of association cortex previously linked to attention control in adults. These results indicate that in children and adolescents, s-allele carriers can be distinguished from l-allele homozygotes on the basis of hypervigilant behavioral and neural processing of negative material.