Genetically predicted gene expression of prefrontal DRD4 gene and the differential susceptibility to childhood emotional eating in response to positive environment

Appetite. 2020 May 1;148:104594. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2020.104594. Epub 2020 Jan 9.


Genetic differential susceptibility states that individuals may vary both by exhibiting poor responses when exposed to adverse environments, and disproportionally benefiting from positive settings. The dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) may be particularly implicated in these effects, including disturbed eating behaviors that might lead to obesity. Here, we explore differential susceptibility to positive environments according to the predicted genetically regulated gene expression of prefrontal cortex DRD4 gene. Using MAVAN as the discovery cohort (Maternal Adversity, Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment) and GUSTO as the replication cohort (Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes), we analyzed the interaction between a) a Positive postnatal environmental score, that accounts for positive outcomes in the postnatal period and b) the genetically regulated gene expression of prefrontal DRD4, computed using a machine learning prediction method (PrediXcan). The outcome measures were the pro-intake domains (Emotional over-eating, Food Responsiveness, Food Enjoyment and Desire to Drink) from the Child Eating Behavior Questionnaire at 48 months of age (MAVAN) and 60 months of age (GUSTO). The interaction between the positive environment and the predicted prefrontal DRD4 gene expression was significant for emotional over-eating in MAVAN (β = -0.403, p < 0.02), in which the high gene expression group had more or less emotional eating according to the exposure to lower or higher positive environment respectively, showing evidence of differential susceptibility criteria. In the replication cohort, a similar result was found with the pro-intake domain Desire to drink (β = -0.583, p < 0.05). These results provide further evidence for the genetic differential susceptibility, accounting for the benefit of positive environments.

Keywords: DRD4; Differential susceptibility; Emotional eating; Gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Eating* / genetics
  • Eating* / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Family Conflict
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Machine Learning
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / genetics*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / metabolism
  • Singapore
  • Social Environment*


  • Receptors, Dopamine D4