Previous research has reported that a functional polymorphism in the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene promoter can moderate the association between early life adversity and increased risk for violence and antisocial behavior. In this study of a combined population of psychiatric outpatients and healthy volunteers (N = 235), we tested the hypothesis that MAOA genotype moderates the association between early traumatic life events (ETLE) experienced during the first 15 years of life and the display of physical aggression during adulthood, as assessed by the Aggression Questionnaire. An ANOVA model including gender, exposure to early trauma, and MAOA genotype as between-subjects factors showed significant MAOA×ETLE (F1,227 = 8.20, P = 0.005) and gender×MAOA×ETLE (F1,227 = 7.04, P = 0.009) interaction effects. Physical aggression scores were higher in men who had experienced early traumatic life events and who carried the low MAOA activity allele (MAOA-L). We repeated the analysis in the subgroup of healthy volunteers (N = 145) to exclude that the observed G×E interactions were due to the inclusion of psychiatric patients in our sample and were not generalizable to the population at large. The results for the subgroup of healthy volunteers were identical to those for the entire sample. The cumulative variance in the physical aggression score explained by the ANOVA effects involving the MAOA polymorphism was 6.6% in the entire sample and 12.1% in the sub-sample of healthy volunteers. Our results support the hypothesis that, when combined with exposure to early traumatic life events, low MAOA activity is a significant risk factor for aggressive behavior during adulthood and suggest that the use of dimensional measures focusing on behavioral aspects of aggression may increase the likelihood of detecting significant gene-by-environment interactions in studies of MAOA-related aggression.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)