Moderate Level Fetal Alcohol Exposure and Serotonin Transporter Gene Promoter Polymorphism Affect Neonatal Temperament and Limbic-Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Regulation in Monkeys

  • Gary W. Kraemer
    Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin

    Harlow Center for Biological Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin

    Department of Psychology, University of Toronto-Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
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  • Colleen F. Moore
    Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
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  • Timothy K. Newman
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, University of Toronto-Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

    Department of Psychiatry, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
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  • Christina S. Barr
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, University of Toronto-Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
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  • Mary L. Schneider
    Address reprint requests to Mary L. Schneider, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, 22 North Charter Street, Madison, WI 53715
    Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin

    Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin

    Harlow Center for Biological Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
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Published:September 21, 2007DOI:


      A length polymorphism in the serotonin (5-HT) transporter gene promoter region in humans and rhesus monkeys affects functional characteristics of the brain 5-HT system. Prenatal alcohol exposure (FA-exposure) can have an impact on brain and psychosocial development that could interact with genetic endowment. This study determined whether moderate FA-exposure interacts with polymorphism in the 5-HT transporter gene to increase the incidence or severity of fetal alcohol effects in rhesus monkeys.


      The offspring of monkeys who did or did not consume moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy were assessed for temperament as neonates and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol (CORT) in response to mother-infant separation at 6 months of age. Serotonin promoter region genotypes (homozygous s/s or heterozygous s/l versus homozygous l/l) were determined.


      Prenatal alcohol exposed carriers of the s allele exhibited increased neonatal irritability and increased ACTH and CORT compared with FA-exposed monkeys homozygous for the l allele and monkeys that were not FA-exposed regardless of genotype.


      The s allele of the 5-HT transporter increases the probability of neonatal irritability and increased stress responsiveness in FA-exposed monkeys, and this gene-environment interaction may affect psychosocial development. It is probable that FA-exposure contributes to 5-HT transporter gene-environment interactions in humans.

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