Infant inhibited temperament in primates predicts adult behavior, is heritable, and is associated with anxiety-relevant genetic variation

Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Nov;26(11):6609-6618. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01156-4. Epub 2021 May 25.


An anxious or inhibited temperament (IT) early in life is a major risk factor for the later development of stress-related psychopathology. Starting in infancy, nonhuman primates, like humans, begin to reveal their temperament when exposed to novel situations. Here, in Study 1 we demonstrate this infant IT predicts adult behavior. Specifically, in over 600 monkeys, we found that individuals scored as inhibited during infancy were more likely to refuse treats offered by potentially-threatening human experimenters as adults. In Study 2, using a sample of over 4000 monkeys from a large multi-generational family pedigree, we demonstrate that infant IT is partially heritable. The data revealed infant IT to reflect a co-inherited substrate that manifests across multiple latent variables. Finally, in Study 3 we performed whole-genome sequencing in 106 monkeys to identify IT-associated single-nucleotide variations (SNVs). Results demonstrated a genome-wide significant SNV near CTNNA2, suggesting a molecular target worthy of additional investigation. Moreover, we observed lower p values in genes implicated in human association studies of neuroticism and depression. Together, these data demonstrate the utility of our model of infant inhibited temperament in the rhesus monkey to facilitate discovery of genes that are relevant to the long-term inherited risk to develop anxiety and depressive disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics
  • Anxiety* / genetics
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Temperament*