Interaction between Oxytocin Genotypes and Early Experience Predicts Quality of Mothering and Postpartum Mood
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Individual differences in maternal behavior are affected by both early life experiences and oxytocin, but little is known about genetic variation in oxytocin genes and its effects on mothering. We examined two polymorphisms in the oxytocin peptide gene OXT (rs2740210 and rs4813627) and one polymorphism in the oxytocin receptor gene OXTR (rs237885) in 187 Caucasian mothers at six months postpartum. For OXT, both rs2740210 and rs4813627 significantly associated with maternal vocalizing to the infant. These polymorphisms also interacted with the quality of care mothers experienced in early life, to predict variation in maternal instrumental care and postpartum depression. However, postpartum depression did not mediate the gene-environment effects of the OXT SNPs on instrumental care. In contrast, the OXTR SNP rs237885 did not associate with maternal behavior, but it did associate with pre-natal (but not post-natal) depression score. The findings illustrate the importance of variation in oxytocin genes, both alone and in interaction with early environment, as predictors of individual differences in human mothering. Furthermore, depression does not appear to have a causal role on the variation we report in instrumental care. This suggests that variation in instrumental care varies in association with a gene-early environment effect regardless of current depressive symptomatology. Finally, our findings highlight the importance of examining multiple dimensions of human maternal behavior in studies of genetic associations.
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