Dopamine Receptor Gene D4 Polymorphisms and Early Sexual Onset: Gender and Environmental Moderation in a Sample of African-American Youth
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PURPOSE: Early sexual onset and its consequences disproportionately affect African-American youth, particularly male youth. The dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4) has been linked to sexual activity and other forms of appetitive behavior, particularly for male youth and in combination with environmental factors (gene × environment [G × E] effects). The differential susceptibility perspective suggests that DRD4 may exert this effect by amplifying the effects of both positive and negative environments. We hypothesized that DRD4 status would amplify the influence of both positive and negative neighborhood environments on early sexual onset among male, but not female, African-Americans. METHODS: Hypotheses were tested with self-report, biospecimen, and census data from five prospective studies of male and female African-American youth in rural Georgia communities, N = 1,677. Early sexual onset was defined as intercourse before age 14. RESULTS: No significant G × E findings emerged for female youth. Male youth with a DRD4 long allele were more likely than those with two DRD4 short alleles to report early sexual onset in negative community environments and not to report early onset in positive community environments. CONCLUSIONS: Dopaminergic regulation of adolescent sexual behaviors may operate differently by gender. DRD4 operated as an environmental amplification rather than a vulnerability factor.
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