Interaction of prenatal exposure to cigarettes and MAOA genotype in pathways to youth antisocial behavior

L. S. Wakschlag, E. O. Kistner, D. S. Pine, G. Biesecker, K. E. Pickett, A. D. Skol, V. Dukic, R. J.R. Blair, B. L. Leventhal, N. J. Cox, J. L. Burns, K. E. Kasza, R. J. Wright, E. H. Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Genetic susceptibility to antisocial behavior may increase fetal sensitivity to prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke. Testing putative gene × exposure mechanisms requires precise measurement of exposure and outcomes. We tested whether a functional polymorphism in the gene encoding the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) interacts with exposure to predict pathways to adolescent antisocial behavior. We assessed both clinical and information-processing outcomes. One hundred seventy-six adolescents and their mothers participated in a follow-up of a pregnancy cohort with well-characterized exposure. A sex-specific pattern of gene × exposure interaction was detected. Exposed boys with the low-activity MAOA 5′ uVNTR (untranslated region variable number of tandem repeats) genotype were at increased risk for conduct disorder (CD) symptoms. In contrast, exposed girls with the high-activity MAOA uVNTR genotype were at increased risk for both CD symptoms and hostile attribution bias on a face-processing task. There was no evidence of a gene-environment correlation (rGE). Findings suggest that the MAOA uVNTR genotype, prenatal exposure to cigarettes and sex interact to predict antisocial behavior and related information-processing patterns. Future research to replicate and extend these findings should focus on elucidating how gene × exposure interactions may shape behavior through associated changes in brain function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)928-937
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • MAOA
  • developmental psychopathology
  • gene + environment interaction
  • prenatal smoking


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