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News Item: Neuroscience

Serotonin Transport Gene Implicated Again

Already linked to depression and PTSD, the 5-HTT gene has been found to play a role in how bullying affects its victims.  Having two short versions of the gene seems to predispose a bullied child to developing emotional problems severe enough to require treatment.

In a study described in Science News [1], researchers looked at sets of twins with identical versions of 5-HTT where one had been bullied and the other not.  The results showed that 33 percent with the two short versions had symptoms of depression, anxiety and/or social withdrawal.  One long and one short version conferred some protection;  29 percent had severe problems.  The most resilient bullied children had two long forms of the gene;  only 15 percent had observable negative reactions.

The 5-HTT gene, which has a critical role in regulating serotonin, the neurotransmitter involved in mediating stress and producing feelings of wellbeing, continues to be linked with how well a child responds to stressors.  In other research, teenage girls who suffered various kinds of ostracism by their peers had worse outcomes than those fortunate enough to have two long, or even one long and one short, gene.

Important to keep in mind:  a significant majority of even those children with short versions of 5-HTT do not develop serious symptoms.  While such a combination does not doom children to misery, having it probably explains why some adults who were abused as children do better than others.  It’s long past time to stop blaming victims for their negative reactions to their childhood trauma.