Converging evidence emphasizes the role of an interaction between monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype, environmental adversity, and sex in the pathophysiology of aggression. The present study aimed to clarify the impact of this interaction on neural activity in aggression-related brain systems. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was performed in 125 healthy adults from a high-risk community sample followed since birth. DNA was genotyped for the MAOA-VNTR (variable number of tandem repeats). Exposure to childhood life stress (CLS) between the ages of 4 and 11 years was assessed using a standardized parent interview, aggression by the Youth/Young Adult Self-Report between the ages of 15 and 25 years, and the VIRA-R (Vragenlijst Instrumentele En Reactieve Agressie) at the age of 15 years. Significant interactions were obtained between MAOA genotype, CLS, and sex relating to amygdala, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) response, respectively. Activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during emotional face-matching increased with the level of CLS in male MAOA-L, while decreasing in male MAOA-H, with the reverse pattern present in females. Findings in the opposite direction in the ACC during a flanker NoGo task suggested that increased emotional activity coincided with decreased inhibitory control. Moreover, increasing amygdala activity was associated with higher Y(A)SR aggression in male MAOA-L and female MAOA-H carriers. Likewise, a significant association between amygdala activity and reactive aggression was detected in female MAOA-H carriers. The results point to a moderating role of sex in the MAOA× CLS interaction for intermediate phenotypes of emotional and inhibitory processing, suggesting a possible mechanism in conferring susceptibility to violence-related disorders.
Keywords: MAOA; aggression; amygdala; fMRI; life stress.
© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.