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The association of serotonin receptor 3A methylation with maternal violence exposure, neural activity, and child aggression

Schechter, DS and Moser, DA and Pointet, T and Stenz, L and Paoloni-Giacobino, A and Adouan, W and Manini, A and Suardi, F and Vital, M and Sancho Rossignol, A and Cordero Campaña, MI and Rothenbgerg, M and Ansermet, F and Rusconi Serpa, S and Dayer, AG and Aue, T (2016) The association of serotonin receptor 3A methylation with maternal violence exposure, neural activity, and child aggression. Behavioural Brain Research. ISSN 1872-7549 (In Press)

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Abstract

Background Methylation of the serotonin 3A receptor gene (HTR3A) has been linked to child maltreatment and adult psychopathology. The present study examined whether HTR3A methylation might be associated with mothers' lifetime exposure to interpersonal violence (IPV), IPV-related psychopathology, child disturbance of attachment, and maternal neural activity. Methods Number of maternal lifetime IPV exposures and measures of maternal psychopathology including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression and aggressive behavior (AgB), and a measure of child attachment disturbance known as “secure base distortion” (SBD) were assessed in a sample of 35 mothers and children aged 12–42 months. Brain fMRI activation was assessed in mothers using 30-s silent film excerpts depicting menacing adult male-female interactions versus prosocial and neutral interactions. Group and continuous analyses were performed to test for associations between clinical and fMRI variables with DNA methylation. Results Maternal IPV exposure-frequency was associated with maternal PTSD; and maternal IPV-PTSD was in turn associated with child SBD. Methylation status of several CpG sites in the HTR3A gene was associated with maternal IPV and IPV-PTSD severity, AgB and child SBD, in particular, self-endangering behavior. Methylation status at a specific CpG site (CpG2_III) was associated with decreased medial prefrontal cortical (mPFC) activity in response to film-stimuli of adult male-female interactions evocative of violence as compared to prosocial and neutral interactions. Conclusions Methylation status of the HTR3A gene in mothers is linked to maternal IPV-related psychopathology, trauma-induced brain activation patterns, and child attachment disturbance in the form of SBD during a sensitive period in the development of self-regulation.

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