The 5-HTTLPR Polymorphism Affects Network-Based Functional Connectivity in the Visual-Limbic System in Healthy Adults

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Jan;43(2):406-414. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.121. Epub 2017 Jun 7.


The serotonin transporter-linked polymorphic region 5-HTTLPR is a key genetic regulator of 5-HTT expression in the human brain where the short allele S has been implicated in emotion dysregulation. However, the neural mechanism underlying the association between this variant and emotion processing is still unclear. Earlier studies suggested an effect of 5-HTTLPR on amygdala activation during emotional face processing. However, this association has been questioned in recent studies employing larger sample sizes and meta-analyses. Here, we examined a sample of 223 healthy subjects with a well-established fMRI emotional face processing task to (1) re-evaluate the association between 5-HTTLPR and amygdala activation, (2) explore potential network-based functional connectivity phenotypes for associations with 5-HTTLPR, and (3) probe the reliability, behavioral significance and potential structural confounds of the identified network phenotype. Our results revealed no significant effect of 5-HTTLPR on amygdala activation (P>0.79). However, the number of S alleles was significantly correlated with functional connectivity of a visual-limbic subnetwork (PFWE=0.03). The subnetwork cluster included brain regions that are pivotal to emotion regulation such as the hippocampus, orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate gyrus, fusiform gyrus, and subcortex. Notably, individuals with lower subnetwork connectivity had significantly higher emotion suppression scores (P=0.01). Further, the connectivity metrics were test-retest reliable and independent from subnetwork gray matter volume and white matter anisotropy. Our data provide evidence for a functional network-based phenotype linking genetic variation in 5-HTTLPR to emotion regulation, and suggest that further critical evaluations of the association between 5-HTTLPR and amygdala activation are warranted.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Connectome*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / diagnostic imaging
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • SLC6A4 protein, human
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins