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The brain-derived neurotrophic factor Val66Met polymorphism moderates early deprivation effects on attention problems

  • Megan R. Gunnar (a1), Jennifer A. Wenner (a1), Kathleen M. Thomas (a1), Charles E. Glatt (a2), Morgan C. Mckenna (a2) and Andrew G. Clark (a2)...

Adverse early care is associated with attention regulatory problems, but not all so exposed develop attention problems. In a sample of 612 youth (girls = 432, M = 11.82 years, SD = 1.5) adopted from institutions (e.g., orphanages) in 25 countries, we examined whether the Val66Met polymorphism of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene moderates attention problems associated with the duration of institutional care. Parent-reported attention problem symptoms were collected using the MacArthur Health and Behavior Questionnaire. DNA was genotyped for the brain-derived neurotrophic factor Val66Met (rs6265) single nucleotide polymorphism. Among youth from Southeast (SE) Asia, the predominant genotype was valine/methionine (Val/Met), whereas among youth from Russia/Europe and Caribbean/South America, the predominant genotype was Val/Val. For analysis, youth were grouped as carrying Val/Val or Met/Met alleles. Being female, being from SE Asia, and being younger when adopted were associated with fewer attention regulatory problem symptoms. Youth carrying at least one copy of the Met allele were more sensitive to the duration of deprivation, yielding an interaction that followed a differential susceptibility pattern. Thus, youth with Val/Met or Met/Met genotypes exhibited fewer symptoms than Val/Val genotypes when adoption was very early and more symptoms when adoption occurred later in development. Similar patterns were observed when SE Asian youth and youth from other parts of the world were analyzed separately.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Megan R. Gunnar, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455; Email:
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