An association between a functional polymorphism in the monoamine oxidase a gene promoter, impulsive traits and early abuse experiences

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004 Aug;29(8):1498-505. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300455.


Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) activity is altered in mood disorders and lower activity associated with aggressive behavior. The gene has a functional polymorphism with a variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) in the upstream regulatory region (MAOA-uVNTR). In this study, we examined possible associations between the MAOA-uVNTR polymorphism and mood disorders, suicidal behavior, aggression/impulsivity, and effects of reported childhood abuse. In total, 663 unrelated subjects with a psychiatric disorder and 104 healthy volunteers were genotyped for the 30 base pair functional VNTR. A novel repeat variation was identified. No statistically significant associations were found between this functional MAOA-uVNTR polymorphism and mood disorders or suicide attempts. However, the lower expression allele was associated with a history of abuse before 15 years of age in male subjects and with higher impulsivity in males but not females. Our results suggest that the lower expression of the MAOA-uVNTR polymorphism is related to a history of early abuse and may sensitize males, but not females, to the effects of early abuse experiences on impulsive traits in adulthood. The polymorphism may be a marker for impulsivity that in turn may contribute to the risk for abuse. This trait could then be further aggravated by abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Alleles
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • DNA / genetics
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / genetics*
  • Male
  • Minisatellite Repeats
  • Monoamine Oxidase / genetics*
  • Mood Disorders / psychology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Suicide, Attempted


  • DNA
  • Monoamine Oxidase