Differential genetic susceptibility to child risk at birth in predicting observed maternal behavior

Keren Fortuna*, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, David Mankuta, Marsha Kaitz, Reut Avinun, Richard P. Ebstein, Ariel Knafo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This study examined parenting as a function of child medical risks at birth and parental genotype (dopamine D4 receptor; DRD4). Our hypothesis was that the relation between child risks and later maternal sensitivity would depend on the presence/absence of a genetic variant in the mothers, thus revealing a gene by environment interaction (GXE). Risk at birth was defined by combining risk indices of children's gestational age at birth, birth weight, and admission to the neonatal intensive care unit. The DRD4-III 7-repeat allele was chosen as a relevant genotype as it was recently shown to moderate the effect of environmental stress on parental sensitivity. Mothers of 104 twin pairs provided DNA samples and were observed with their children in a laboratory play session when the children were 3.5 years old. Results indicate that higher levels of risk at birth were associated with less sensitive parenting only among mothers carrying the 7-repeat allele, but not among mothers carrying shorter alleles. Moreover, mothers who are carriers of the 7-repeat allele and whose children scored low on the risk index were observed to have the highest levels of sensitivity. These findings provide evidence for the interactive effects of genes and environment (in this study, children born at higher risk) on parenting, and are consistent with a genetic differential susceptibility model of parenting by demonstrating that some parents are inherently more susceptible to environmental influences, both good and bad, than are others.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere19765
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011


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