This study examined whether the interaction between the serotonin transporter promoter region (5-HTTLPR) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) Val66Met polymorphisms was associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity to stress. A community sample of 144 preschool-aged children was genotyped and exposed to stress-inducing laboratory tasks. Salivary cortisol was obtained at four time points during a standardized laboratory assessment before and after stressors involving separation from a parent and frustrating tasks. Children homozygous for the short-5-HTTLPR allele and carrying the Met-BDNF allele evidenced a significantly lower initial level of cortisol, followed by a positive increase in cortisol in response to the laboratory stressors. In contrast, children who were homozygous for the short-5-HTTLPR and the Val-BDNF alleles evidenced a greater decline in cortisol in response to the laboratory stressors. Findings indicated that the BDNF gene moderated the association between 5-HTTLPR and children's biological stress responses, suggesting that epistatic effects play a role in individual differences in stress regulation, and possibly genetic vulnerability to stress-related disorders.
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