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Effects of methamphetamine abuse and serotonin transporter gene variants on aggression and emotion-processing neurocircuitry


Individuals who abuse methamphetamine (MA) exhibit heightened aggression, but the neurobiological underpinnings are poorly understood. As variability in the serotonin transporter (SERT) gene can influence aggression, this study assessed possible contributions of this gene to MA-related aggression. In all, 53 MA-dependent and 47 control participants provided self-reports of aggression, and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while viewing pictures of faces. Participants were genotyped at two functional polymorphic loci in the SERT gene: the SERT-linked polymorphic region (SERT-LPR) and the intron 2 variable number tandem repeat polymorphism (STin2 VNTR); participants were then classified as having high or low risk for aggression according to individual SERT risk allele combinations. Comparison of SERT risk allele loads between groups showed no difference between MA-dependent and control participants. Comparison of self-report scores showed greater aggression in MA-dependent than control participants, and in high genetic risk than low-risk participants. Signal change in the amygdala was lower in high genetic risk than low-risk participants, but showed no main effect of MA abuse; however, signal change correlated negatively with MA use measures. Whole-brain differences in activation were observed between MA-dependent and control groups in the occipital and prefrontal cortex, and between genetic high- and low-risk groups in the occipital, fusiform, supramarginal and prefrontal cortex, with effects overlapping in a small region in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that the investigated SERT risk allele loads are comparable between MA-dependent and healthy individuals, and that MA and genetic risk influence aggression independently, with minimal overlap in associated neural substrates.

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