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War exposure, 5-HTTLPR genotype and lifetime risk of depression

  • Sylvaine Artero (a1), Jacques Touchon (a1), Anne-Marie Dupuy (a1), Alain Malafosse (a2) and Karen Ritchie (a3)...

In 1962 approximately 1.5 million French people living in Algeria were repatriated to France in very poor and often life-threatening conditions. These people constitute a cohort for the study of the long-term impact of gene–environment interaction on depression.


To examine the interaction between a highly stressful life event and subsequent depression, and its modulation by a length polymorphism of the serotonin transporter gene (5–HTTLPR).


A community sample of people aged 65 years and over residing in the Montpellier region of the south of France was randomly recruited from electoral rolls. Genotyping was performed on 248 repatriated persons and 632 controls. Current and lifetime major and minor depressive disorders were assessed according to DSM-IV criteria.


A significant relationship was observed between exposure to repatriation and subsequent depression (P<0.002), but there was no significant effect of gene alone (P = 0.62). After controlling for age, gender, education, disability, recent life events and cognitive function, the gene–environment interaction (repatriation×5-HTTLPR) was globally significant (P<0.002; OR = 3.21, 95% CI 2.48–5.12). Individuals carrying the two short (s) alleles of 5-HTTLPR were observed to be at higher risk (P<0.005; OR = 2.34, 95% CI 1.24–4.32), particularly when repatriation occurred before age 35 years (P<0.002; OR = 2.91, 95% CI 1.44–5.88), but this did not reach significance in those who were older at the time of the event (P = 0.067).


The association between depression and war repatriation was significantly modulated by 5-HTTLPR genotype but this appeared to occur only in people who were younger at the time of exposure.

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Corresponding author
Sylvaine Artero, INSERM U1061, Neuropsychiatry: Epidemiological and Clinical Research, La Colombière Hospital, 34093 Montpellier cedex 5, France. Email:
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The Enquête de Santé Psychologique – Risques, Incidence et Traitement (ESPRIT) project is financed by the regional government of Languedoc-Roussillon, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche and an unconditional grant from Novartis.

Declaration of interest


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War exposure, 5-HTTLPR genotype and lifetime risk of depression

  • Sylvaine Artero (a1), Jacques Touchon (a1), Anne-Marie Dupuy (a1), Alain Malafosse (a2) and Karen Ritchie (a3)...
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