Are There Any Genetic Factors That May Enhance Or Reduce Our Response To Stress?

Dr. Redford Williams answers the question: 'Genes Linked To Stress Response?'

ByABC News
April 17, 2008, 10:07 AM

— -- Question: Are there any genetic factors that may enhance or reduce our response to stress?

Answer: Of course genes are playing a very important role in our sensitivity or resistance to stress. There have been some very good examples in recent research showing that people who have a certain genotype on a serotonin-related gene -- gene that regulates the neurotransmitter serotonin in our brains -- people who have a certain variant of that gene are much more likely to become depressed if they experience stressful life events over a period of years.

Another serotonin-related gene has been found to identify men who, if they've been abused when they were children, are much more likely to be violent offenders when they grow up. So those are fairly extreme examples of how our genes make us more susceptible to the bad effects of stress on both our mental health and behavior -- even ranging up to criminal behavior.

There are other genes that affect how our personality develops. So, for example, this tendency to experience negative emotions -- this part of the personality that drives the increase of negative emotions when one is under stress, has also been found to be influenced by our genotype on a certain serotonin-related gene. People who have a short copy of this gene are much more likely to have greater negative emotions flaring up when they're under stress than people who have a long copy of this gene. So it's no question that our genes and our environment interact to strongly affect our sensitivity to stress or our resilience against the effects of stress.

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