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Parental Serotonin Transporter Polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) Moderates Associations of Stress and Child Behavior With Parenting Behavior


The serotonin transporter-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) is associated with caregiving in nonhuman animals and with affective and cognitive correlates of human parenting, yet its association with human parenting is largely unknown. Using a well-characterized sample of parents and offspring, we evaluated the association of parental 5-HTTLPR with observed positive and negative parenting behavior, as well as its biologically plausible moderation of child-related stress and disruptive child behavior as predictors of parenting. One hundred and sixty-two parents (86% mothers) and their 6- to 9-year-old children with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder were ascertained using multiple methods including structured interviews, rating scales, and observed parent-child interaction, yielding strong measures of key constructs. Controlling for multiple youth-level (e.g., sex, 5-HTTLPR genotype, disruptive behavior) and parent-level (e.g., demographics, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) factors, parents with an S allele exhibited significantly less observed positive parenting than those with the LL genotype. Significant Gene × Environment interactions were also observed: Child-related stress was negatively associated with observed parental negativity among SS/SL genotype parents but not LL genotype parents; next, observed disruptive child behavior was positively associated with parental negativity for both genotypes, but the effect was strongest in SS/SL parents. These preliminary findings suggest that parental 5-HTTLPR is uniquely associated with positive and negative parenting behavior, with more specific patterns according to child-related stress and disruptive child behavior. We consider implications for future research evaluating genetic influences on parenting as well as considerations for designing and delivering parenting-based interventions.

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