Adverse Life Events and Allele-Specific Methylation of the Serotonin Transporter Gene (SLC6A4) in Adolescents: The TRAILS Study

Lisette Knaap, H Riese, James joseph Hudziak, Michael Verbiest, Frank Verhulst, AJ Oldehinkel, Floor Oort

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Objectives Adverse life events increase vulnerability to affective disorders later in life, possibly mediated by methylation of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4). We investigated the relationship of SLC6A4 methylation with various types of adversity (perinatal adversity, traumatic youth experiences and stressful life events [SLEs]), as well as with the timing of SLEs (during childhood [0-11 years] or during adolescence [12-15 years]). In addition, we investigated whether different serotonin-transporter-linked polymorphic region genotypes were equally sensitive to SLE-related methylation. Methods In a population sample of 939 adolescents (mean age = 16.2 years), we assessed SLC6A4 methylation, SLC6A4 functionality (serotonin-transporter-linked polymorphic region long and short alleles, and rs25531), and adverse life events. Results Only a higher number of SLEs was positively associated with higher SLC6A4 methylation (B = 0.11, p = .011). Adolescent SLEs were associated with higher SLC6A4 methylation (B = 0.13, p = .004) independently of childhood SLEs (B = 0.02, p = .57). L-allele homozygotes showed a greater impact of SLEs on methylation (B = 0.37, p < .001) than did s-allele carriers (B = 0.04, p = .66), resulting in higher levels of SLC6A4 methylation for l-allele homozygotes among those experiencing high levels of SLEs. Conclusions Our findings demonstrate a higher level of SLC6A4 methylation after SLEs in adolescents, with a more pronounced association for SLEs during adolescence than during childhood. Considering the allele-specific sensitivity of SLC6A4 methylation to SLEs, this study may help clarify the role of SLC6A4 in the development of affective disorders.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)246-255
Number of pages10
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Research programs

  • EMC MM-01-39-09-A
  • EMC NIHES-04-55-01

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