Prenatal maternal psychopathology affects child development, but some children seem more vulnerable than others. Genetic variance in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis genes may influence the effect of prenatal maternal psychological symptoms on child emotional and behavioral problems. This hypothesis was tested in the Generation R Study, a population-based cohort from fetal life onward. In total, 1727 children of Northern European descent and their mothers participated in this study and were genotyped for variants in the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene (rs6189/rs6190, rs10052957, rs41423247, rs6195, and rs6198) and the FK506-binding protein 5 (FKBP5) gene (rs1360780). Prenatal maternal psychological symptoms were assessed at 20 weeks pregnancy and child behavior was assessed by both parents at 3 years. In a subsample of 331 children, data about cortisol reactivity were available. Based on power calculations, only those genetic variants with sufficient minor allele frequencies (rs41423247, rs10052957, and rs1360780) were included in the interaction analyses. We found that variation in GR at rs41423247 moderates the effect of prenatal maternal psychological symptoms on child emotional and behavioral problems (beta 0.41, SE 0.16, p0.009). This prenatal interaction effect was independent of mother's genotype and maternal postnatal psychopathology, and not found for prenatal psychological symptoms of the father. Moreover, the interaction between rs41423247 and prenatal psychological symptoms was also associated with decreased child cortisol reactivity (beta 2.30, p-value 0.05). These findings emphasize the potential effect of prenatal gene-environment interaction, and give insight in possible mechanisms accounting for children's individual vulnerability to develop emotional and behavioral problems.
- child emotional and behavioral problem
- cortisol reactivity
- gene-environment interaction
- glucocorticoid receptor gene
- prenatal psychological symptom