5HTTLPR Polymorphism and Enlargement of the Pulvinar: Unlocking the Backdoor to the Limbic System

  • Keith A. Young
    Address reprint requests to Keith A. Young, Ph.D., Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, Neuropsychiatry Research Program (151N), 1901 S. 1st Street, Temple, TX 76504
    Neuropsychiatry Research Program, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, Temple, Texas

    Texas A&M Health Science Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Temple, Texas
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  • Leigh A. Holcomb
    Neuropsychiatry Research Program, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, Temple, Texas

    Texas A&M Health Science Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Temple, Texas
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  • Willy L. Bonkale
    Neuropsychiatry Research Program, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, Temple, Texas

    Texas A&M Health Science Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Temple, Texas
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  • Paul B. Hicks
    Neuropsychiatry Research Program, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, Temple, Texas

    Texas A&M Health Science Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Temple, Texas
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  • Umar Yazdani
    Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas.
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  • Dwight C. German
    Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas.
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Published:November 07, 2006DOI:


      The 5HTTLPR genetic variant of the serotonin transporter (SERT), which consists of a long (SERT-l) and short (SERT-s) allele, has emerged as a major factor influencing emotional behavior and brain anatomy. The pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus projects to important limbic nuclei including the amygdala and cingulate cortex, is involved in the processing of stimuli with emotional content, and contains an abundance of SERT.


      Stereological methods were used to measure pulvinar neuron number in postmortem tissue from major depressive disorder (n = 11), bipolar disorder (n = 11), schizophrenia (n = 12), and control (n = 15) specimens from the Stanley Foundation Neuropathology Consortium. The effect of SERT genotype on pulvinar volume and neuron number was investigated by using analysis of covariance.


      Analysis of covariance with diagnosis, SERT genotype, age, hemisphere, postmortem interval, and time-in-formalin covariates identified a 20% increase in pulvinar neuron number and volume in SERT-ss subjects.


      The elevated number of pulvinar neurons in subjects with a SERT-ss genotype may serve to enhance subcortical input of emotionally relevant stimuli to the limbic system, providing a mechanism for the 5HTTLPR genetic variant to affect predisposition to conditions such as major depression.

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