MAOA, childhood maltreatment, and antisocial behavior: meta-analysis of a gene-environment interaction

Biol Psychiatry. 2014 Jan 1;75(1):9-17. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.004. Epub 2013 Jun 18.


Background: In a seminal study of gene-environment interaction, childhood maltreatment predicted antisocial behavior more strongly in male subjects carrying an MAOA promoter variant of lesser, compared with higher, transcriptional efficiency. Many further investigations have been reported, including studies of other early environmental exposures and female subjects. Here, we report a meta-analysis of studies testing the interaction of MAOA genotype and childhood adversities on antisocial outcomes in predominantly nonclinical samples.

Methods: Included were 27 peer-reviewed, English-language studies published through August, 2012, that contained indicators of maltreatment or other family (e.g., parenting, sociodemographic) hardships; MAOA genotype; indices of aggressive and antisocial behavior; and statistical test of genotype-environment interaction. Studies of forensic and exclusively clinical samples, clinical cohorts lacking proportionally matched control subjects, or outcomes nonspecific for antisocial behavior were excluded. The Liptak-Stouffer weighted Z-test for meta-analysis was implemented to maximize study inclusion and calculated separately for male and female cohorts.

Results: Across 20 male cohorts, early adversity presaged antisocial outcomes more strongly for low-activity, relative to high- activity, MAOA genotype (p = .0044). Stratified analyses showed the interaction specific to maltreatment (p = .00000082) and robust to several sensitivity analyses. Across 11 female cohorts, MAOA did not interact with combined early life adversities, whereas maltreatment alone predicted antisocial behaviors preferentially, but weakly, in female subjects of high-activity MAOA genotype (p = .02).

Conclusions: We found common regulatory variation in MAOA to moderate effects of childhood maltreatment on male antisocial behaviors, confirming a sentinel finding in research on gene-environment interaction. An analogous, but less consistent, finding in female subjects warrants further investigation.

Keywords: Antisocial behavior; MAOA; childhood maltreatment; gene-environment interaction; genetics; meta-analysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / genetics
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monoamine Oxidase / genetics*
  • Sex Factors


  • Monoamine Oxidase