Serotonin 5-HTTLPR Genotype Modulates Reactive Visual Scanning of Social and Non-social Affective Stimuli in Young Children

Antonios I. Christou, Yvonne Wallis, Hayley Bair, Maurice Zeegers, Joseph P. McCleery

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Previous studies have documented the 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms as genetic variants that are involved in serotonin availability and also associated with emotion regulation and facial emotion processing. In particular, neuroimaging and behavioral studies of healthy populations have produced evidence to suggest that carriers of the Short allele exhibit heightened neurophysiological and behavioral reactivity when processing aversive stimuli, particularly in brain regions involved in fear. However, an additional distinction has emerged in the field, which highlights particular types of fearful information, i.e., aversive information which involves a social component versus non-social aversive stimuli. Although processing of each of these stimulus types (social and non-social) is believed to involve a subcortical neural system which includes the amygdala, evidence also suggests that the amygdala itself may be particularly responsive to socially significant environmental information, potentially due to the critical relevance of social information for humans. Examining individual differences in neurotransmitter systems which operate within this subcortical network, and in particular the serotonin system, may be critically informative for furthering our understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying responses to emotional and affective stimuli. In the present study we examine visual scanning patterns in response to both aversive and positive images of a social or non-social nature in relation to 5-HTTLPR genotypes, in 49 children aged 4–7 years. Results indicate that children with at least one Short 5-HTTLPR allele spent less time fixating the threat-related non-social stimuli, compared with participants with two copies of the Long allele. Interestingly, a separate set of analyses suggests that carriers of two copies of the short 5-HTTLPR allele also spent less time fixating both the negative and positive non-social stimuli. Together, these findings support the hypothesis that genetically mediated differences in serotonin availability mediate behavioral responses to different types of emotional stimuli in young children.
Original languageEnglish
Article number118
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2017


  • 5-HTTLPR
  • visual scanning
  • early childhood
  • non-social cues
  • aversive stimuli
  • eye movements


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