Nature and nurture predispose to violent behavior: serotonergic genes and adverse childhood environment

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007 Nov;32(11):2375-83. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301359. Epub 2007 Mar 7.


Aggressive behavior is influenced by variation in genes of the serotonergic circuitry and early-life experience alike. The present study aimed at investigating the contribution of polymorphisms shown to moderate transcription of two genes involved in serotonergic neurotransmission (serotonin transporter, 5HTT, and monoamine oxidase A, MAOA) to the development of violence and to test for gene-environment interactions relating to adverse childhood environment. A cohort of 184 adult male volunteers referred for forensic assessment participated in the study. Each individual was assigned to either a violent or a nonviolent group. Logistic regression was performed and the best-fitting model, with a predictive power of 74%, revealed independent effects of adverse childhood environment and MAOA genotype. High environmental adversity during childhood was associated significantly with violent behavior. Forty-five percent of violent, but only 30% of nonviolent individuals carried the low-activity, short MAOA allele. Most interestingly, an interaction effect between childhood environment and 5HTT genotype on violent behavior was found in that high adversity during childhood impacted only the later-life violence if the short promoter alleles were present. These findings indicate complex interactions between genetic variation of the serotonergic circuitry and environmental factors arguing against simplistic, mono-causal explanations of violent behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / genetics*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environment*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monoamine Oxidase / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Violence / psychology*


  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Monoamine Oxidase