Background: Neuroticism is a major risk factor for affective disorders. This personality trait has been hypothesized to associate with synaptic availability of the serotonin transporter, which critically controls serotonergic tone in the brain. However, earlier studies linking neuroticism and serotonin transporter have failed to produce converging findings. Because sex affects both the serotonergic system and the risk that neuroticism poses to the individual, sex may modify the association between neuroticism and serotonin transporter, but this question has not been investigated by previous studies.
Methods: Here, we combined data from 4 different positron emission tomography imaging centers to address whether neuroticism is related to serotonin transporter binding in vivo. The data set included serotonin transporter binding potential values from the thalamus and striatum and personality scores from 91 healthy males and 56 healthy females. We specifically tested if the association between neuroticism and serotonin transporter is different in females and males.
Results: We found that neuroticism and thalamic serotonin transporter binding potentials were associated in both males and females, but with opposite directionality. Higher neuroticism associated with higher serotonin transporter binding potential in males (standardized beta 0.292, P=.008), whereas in females, higher neuroticism associated with lower serotonin transporter binding potential (standardized beta -0.288, P=.014).
Conclusions: The finding is in agreement with recent studies showing that the serotonergic system is involved in affective disorders differently in males and females and suggests that contribution of thalamic serotonin transporter to the risk of affective disorders depends on sex.
Keywords: PET; neuroticism; serotonin; serotonin transporter; sex.
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of CINP.