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Polymorphisms in the oxytocin receptor gene are associated with the development of psychopathy

  • Mark R. Dadds (a1), Caroline Moul (a1), Avril Cauchi (a1), Carol Dobson-Stone (a1) (a2), David J. Hawes (a3), John Brennan (a4), Ruth Urwin (a5) and Richard E. Ebstein (a6)...

The co-occurrence of child conduct problems (CPs) and callous–unemotional (CU) traits confers risk for psychopathy. The oxytocin (OXT) system is a likely candidate for involvement in the development of psychopathy. We tested variations in the OXT receptor gene (OXTR) in CP children and adolescents with varying levels of CU traits. Two samples of Caucasian children, aged 4–16 years, who met DSM criteria for disruptive behavior problems and had no features of autism spectrum disorder, were stratified into low versus high CU traits. Measures were the frequencies of nine candidate OXTR polymorphisms (single nucleotide polymorphisms). In Sample 1, high CU traits were associated with single nucleotide polymorphism rs1042778 in the 3′ untranslated region of OXTR and the CGCT haplotype of rs2268490, rs2254298, rs237889, and rs13316193. The association of rs1042778 was replicated in the second rural sample and held across gender and child versus adolescent age groups. We conclude that polymorphic variation of the OXTR characterizes children with high levels of CU traits and CPs. The results are consistent with a hypothesized role of OXT in the developmental antecedents of psychopathy, particularly the differential amygdala activation model of psychopathic traits, and add genetic evidence that high CU traits specify a distinct subgroup within CP children.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Mark R. Dadds, School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; E-mail:
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