Variations in maternal 5-HTTLPR affect observed sensitive parenting

Rolieke A M Cents, Rianne Kok, Henning Tiemeier*, Nicole Lucassen, Eszter Székely, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Albert Hofman, Vincent W V Jaddoe, Marinus H. Van Ijzendoorn, Frank C. Verhulst, Mijke P. Lambregtse -Van Den Berg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background Little is known about the genetic determinants of sensitive parenting. Two earlier studies examined the effect of the serotonin transporter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) on sensitive parenting, but reported opposite results. In a large cohort we further examined whether 5-HTTLPR is a predictor of observed maternal sensitivity and whether observed child social fearfulness moderates the effect of 5-HTTLPR on maternal sensitivity. Methods The population-based cohort consisted of 767 mother-child dyads. Maternal sensitivity was repeatedly observed at the child's age of 14 months, 36 months and 48 months. Sensitivity was coded using the Ainsworth's rating scales for sensitivity and cooperation and the revised Erickson rating scales for Supportive presence and Intrusiveness. Child social fearfulness was observed using the Stranger Approach episode of the Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery at 36 months. Results Repeated measurement analyses showed a consistent main effect of maternal 5-HTTLPR on sensitivity; mothers carrying the S-allele were more sensitive toward their children (p =.005). This effect was not explained by the child's 5-HTTLPR genotype. We found no evidence that child social fearfulness moderated the effect of 5-HTTLPR on sensitivity. Conclusions This study suggests that variations in maternal 5-HTTLPR genotype appear to be involved in the etiology of parenting behavior. The observed effects of this genetic variation are consistent with the notion that parenting may have a genetic component, but large studies are needed to find the specific small molecular effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1025-1032
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • 5-HTTLPR
  • maternal sensitivity
  • parenting
  • serotonin transporter polymorphism
  • social fearfulness


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