Epistasis between 5-HTTLPR and ADRA2B polymorphisms influences attentional bias for emotional information in healthy volunteers

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2012 Sep;15(8):1027-36. doi: 10.1017/S1461145711001295. Epub 2011 Aug 19.


Individual differences in emotional processing are likely to contribute to vulnerability and resilience to emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. Genetic variation is known to contribute to these differences but they remain incompletely understood. The serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) and α2B-adrenergic autoreceptor (ADRA2B) insertion/deletion polymorphisms impact on two separate but interacting monaminergic signalling mechanisms that have been implicated in both emotional processing and emotional disorders. Recent studies suggest that the 5-HTTLPR s allele is associated with a negative attentional bias and an increased risk of emotional disorders. However, such complex behavioural traits are likely to exhibit polygenicity, including epistasis. This study examined the contribution of the 5-HTTLPR and ADRA2B insertion/deletion polymorphisms to attentional biases for aversive information in 94 healthy male volunteers and found evidence of a significant epistatic effect (p<0.001). Specifically, in the presence of the 5-HTTLPR s allele, the attentional bias for aversive information was attenuated by possession of the ADRA2B deletion variant whereas in the absence of the s allele, the bias was enhanced. These data identify a cognitive mechanism linking genotype-dependent serotonergic and noradrenergic signalling that is likely to have implications for the development of cognitive markers for depression/anxiety as well as therapeutic drug effects and personalized approaches to treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Bias*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Epistasis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / genetics*
  • Sequence Deletion / genetics
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • ADRA2B protein, human
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2
  • SLC6A4 protein, human
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins