Background The serotonin transporter gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) has previously been associated with hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis function. Moreover, it has been suggested that this association is moderated by an interaction with stressful life experiences.

Aims To investigate the moderation of cortisol response to psychosocial stress by 5-HTTLPR genotype, either directly or through an interaction with early life stress.

Method A total of 151 women, 85 of which had personality psychopathology, performed the Trier Social Stress Test while cortisol responsivity was assessed.

Results The results demonstrate a main effect of genotype on cortisol responsivity. Women carrying two copies of the long version of 5-HTTLPR exhibited stronger cortisol responses to psychosocial stress than women with at least one copy of the short allele (P = 0.03). However, the proportion of the variance of stress-induced cortisol responsivity explained by 5-HTTLPR genotype was not further strengthened by including early life adversity as a moderating factor (P = 0.52).

Conclusions Our results highlight the need to clarify gender-specific biological factors influencing the serotonergic system. Furthermore, our results suggest that childhood maltreatment, specifically during the first 15 years of life, is unlikely to exert a moderating influence of large effect on the relationship between the 5-HTTLPR genotype and cortisol responsivity to psychosocial stress.

Declaration of interest None.

Additional Metadata
Keywords 5-HTTLPR, hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis, psychosocial stress, cortisol, women
Persistent URL,
Journal Bjpsych Open
Aleknavičiūtė, J, Tulen, J.H.M, de Rijke, Y.B, van der Kroeg, M., Kooiman, C.G., & Kushner, S.A. (2018). The 5-HTTLPR genotype, early life adversity and cortisol responsivity to psychosocial stress in women. Bjpsych Open, 4(4), 180–185. doi:10.1192/bjo.2018.23