Genetic differential susceptibility on trial: Meta-analytic support from randomized controlled experiments

Marinus H. Van Ijzendoorn*, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The most stringent test of differential susceptibility theory is provided by randomized control trials examining the moderating role of genetic markers of differential susceptibility in experimental manipulations of the environment (Gene × Experimental Environment interactions), being at least 10 times more powerful than correlational Gene × Environment interaction studies. We identified 22 experiments involving 3,257 participants with various developmental outcomes (e.g., externalizing problems, internalizing behaviors, and cognitive development). Effect sizes contrasting experimental versus control group were computed both for subjects with the polymorphism considered indicative of heightened susceptibility (e.g., the dopamine receptor D4 gene seven-repeat allele and the serotonin transporter polymorphic region short allele) and others expected to be low in susceptibility (e.g., the dopamine receptor D4 gene four-repeat allele and the serotonin transporter polymorphic region short allele). Clear-cut experimental support for genetic differential susceptibility emerged: the combined effect size of the interventions for the susceptible genotypes amounted to r =.33 (95% confidence interval = 0.23, 0.42; p <.01) versus a nonsignificant r =.08 (95% confidence interval =-0.02, 0.17; p =.12) for the hypothesized nonsusceptible genotypes. Macrotrials showed more evidence of genetic differential susceptibility than microtrials, and differential susceptibility was more clearly observed in trials with externalizing and cognitive outcomes than with internalizing problems. This meta-analysis shows proof of principle for genetic differential susceptibility and indicates that it is time to explore its mechanisms and limits. The concept of differential susceptibility alters the idea of constitutional risk factors (reactive temperament and risk genotypes), and points to intervention efficacy hidden in Gene × Environment interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-162
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Volume27
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

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