Studies on the neurobiological basis of risk-taking behavior have most often focused on the serotonin system. The promoter region of the gene encoding the serotonin transporter contains a polymorphic site (5-HTTLPR) that is important for the transcriptional activity, and studies have demonstrated its association with brain activity and behavior. Another molecular mechanism that reflects the capacity of the central serotonin system is the activity of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) as measured in platelets. The purpose of the present study was to examine how measures of the serotonin system (platelet MAO activity and the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism), personality variables, alcohol use and smoking are associated with risk-taking traffic behavior in schoolchildren through late adolescence. The younger cohort of the longitudinal Estonian Children Personality Behaviour and Health Study (originally n = 583) filled in questionnaires about personality traits, smoking status, alcohol use and traffic behavior at age 15 and 18 years. From venous blood samples, platelet MAO activity was measured radioenzymatically and 5-HTTLPR was genotyped. During late adolescence, subjects with lower platelet MAO activity were more likely to belong to the high-risk traffic behavior group. Male 5-HTTLPRs'-allele carriers were more likely to belong to the high-risk traffic behavior group compared to the l'/l' homozygotes. Other variables predicting risk group were alcohol use, smoking and Maladaptive impulsivity.The results suggest that lower capacity of the serotoninergic system is associated with more risky traffic behavior during late adolescence, but possibly by different mechanisms in boys and girls.
Keywords: Serotonin system; longitudinal study; personality; adolescent; traffic behavior.