The differential impact of oxytocin receptor gene in violence-exposed boys and girls

Int J Dev Neurosci. 2017 Jun;59:60-67. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2017.03.009. Epub 2017 Mar 22.


Childhood violence exposure is a prevalent public health problem. Understanding the lasting impact of violence requires an enhanced appreciation for the complex effects of violence across behavioral, physiologic, and molecular outcomes. This subject matched, cross-sectional study of 80 children explored the impact of violence exposure across behavioral, physiologic, and cellular outcomes. Externalizing behavior, diurnal cortisol rhythm, and telomere length (TL) were examined in a community recruited cohort of Black youth. Given evidence that genetic variation contributes to individual differences in response to the environment, we further tested whether a polymorphism in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR rs53576) moderated associations between violence and youth outcomes. Exposure to violence was directly associated with increased externalizing behavior, but no direct association of violence was found with cortisol or TL. Oxytocin genotype, however, moderated the association between violence and both cortisol and TL, suggesting that pathways linked to oxytocin may contribute to individual differences in the physiologic and molecular consequences of violence exposure. Sex differences with OXTR in cortisol and TL outcomes were also detected. Taken together, these findings suggest that there are complex pathways through which violence exposure impacts children, and that these pathways differ by both genetic variation and the sex of the child.

Keywords: Cortisol; Externalizing behavior; Oxytocin; Polymorphism; Telomeres; Violence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Cheek / pathology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exposure to Violence / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Telomere / pathology


  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Hydrocortisone