This study is the first to investigate the longitudinal effects of gene-environment interplay between DRD4 genotype and maternal sensitivity on child externalizing behavior. Multiple measures of maternal sensitivity (14, 36, and 48 months) and externalizing behavior (18 months, 36 months, and 5 years) were assessed in a large cohort study (N=548). Early maternal insensitivity (14 months) was associated with early externalizing behavior (18 months) in a for better and for worse manner, but only in children with at least one DRD4 7-repeat, consistent with a differential susceptibility model. Later insensitivity (48 months) predicted externalizing behavior at age 5 independent of DRD4 genotype. A structural equation model including all measures across time supported the differential susceptibility model: The overall effect of early maternal sensitivity on later externalizing behavior was significant only for children with a DRD4 7-repeat allele. The results highlight the importance of studying gene-environment interactions across development.

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Developmental Psychobiology
Department of Epidemiology

Windhorst, D., Mileva-Seitz, V., Linting, M., Hofman, A., Jaddoe, V., Verhulst, F., … Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. (2015). Differential susceptibility in a developmental perspective: DRD4 and maternal sensitivity predicting externalizing behavior. Developmental Psychobiology, 57(1), 35–49. doi:10.1002/dev.21257