Environmental stress alters genetic regulation of novelty seeking in vervet monkeys

Genes Brain Behav. 2011 Aug;10(6):683-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-183X.2011.00707.x. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Considerable attention has been paid to identifying genetic influences and gene-environment interactions that increase vulnerability to environmental stressors, with promising but inconsistent results. A nonhuman primate model is presented here that allows assessment of genetic influences in response to a stressful life event for a behavioural trait with relevance for psychopathology. Genetic and environmental influences on free-choice novelty seeking behaviour were assessed in a pedigreed colony of vervet monkeys before and after relocation from a low stress to a higher stress environment. Heritability of novelty seeking scores, and genetic correlations within and between environments were conducted using variance components analysis. The results showed that novelty seeking was markedly inhibited in the higher stress environment, with effects persisting across a 2-year period for adults but not for juveniles. There were significant genetic contributions to novelty seeking scores in each year (h(2) = 0.35-0.43), with high genetic correlations within each environment (rhoG > 0.80) and a lower genetic correlation (rhoG = 0.35, non-significant) between environments. There were also significant genetic contributions to individual change scores from before to after the move (h(2) = 0.48). These results indicate that genetic regulation of novelty seeking was modified by the level of environmental stress, and they support a role for gene-environment interactions in a behavioural trait with relevance for mental health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chlorocebus aethiops / genetics*
  • Chlorocebus aethiops / psychology
  • Environment*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Male
  • Pedigree
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics*