The impact of serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) genotype on the development of resting-state functional connectivity in children and adolescents: a preliminary report

A fundamental component of brain development is the formation of large-scale networks across the cortex. One such network, the default network, undergoes a protracted development, displaying weak connectivity in childhood that strengthens in adolescence and becomes most robust in adulthood. Little is known about the genetic contributions to default network connectivity in adulthood or during development. Alterations in connectivity between posterior and frontal portions of the default network have been associated with several psychological disorders, including anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. These disorders have also been linked to variants of the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR). The LA allele of 5-HTTLPR results in higher serotonin transporter expression than the S allele or the rarer LG allele. 5-HTTLPR may influence default network connectivity, as the superior medial frontal region has been shown to be sensitive to changes in serotonin. Also, serotonin as a growth factor early in development may alter large-scale networks such as the default network. The present study examined the influence of 5-HTTLPR variants on connectivity between the posterior and frontal structures and its development in a cross-sectional study of 39 healthy children and adolescents. We found that children and adolescents homozygous for the S allele (S/S, n=10) showed weaker connectivity in the superior medial frontal cortex compared to those homozygous for the LA allele (LA/LA, n=13) or heterozygotes (S/LA, S/LG, n=16). Moreover, there was an age-by-genotype interaction, such that those with LA/LA genotype had the steepest age-related increase in connectivity between the posterior hub and superior medial frontal cortex, followed by heterozygotes. In contrast, individuals with the S/S genotype had the least age-related increase in connectivity strength. This preliminary report expands our understanding of the genetic influences on the development of large-scale brain connectivity and lays down the foundation for future research and replication of the results with a larger sample.