Background: Polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) modulate amygdala activity in healthy individuals. Increased responses to negative stimuli in carriers of low transcription alleles have been proposed to contribute to the pathogenesis of depression. We sought to investigate the effects of genotype as well as diagnosis in patients with depression. Methods: Subjects with recurrent depression (n=67) and matched healthy controls (n=49) participated in a fMRI task of implicit processing of sad facial stimuli. Effects of biallelic (short (S) and long (L) alleles) and triallelic (including rs25531 A/G single nucleotide variation) models of 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms on amygdala activity and connectivity were investigated. Results: Significant effects were observed of both genotype and diagnosis on amygdala activity. Increased amygdala activity was associated with 5-HTTLPR genotype in low transcription allele carriers as well as with a diagnosis of depression. The connectivity analysis revealed a main effect of genotype with reduced connectivity to the subgenual region of the anterior cingulate in carriers of the low transcription alleles. There was also a main effect of diagnosis with reduced connectivity to the dorsal region of the anterior cingulate and to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in depression. There were no interaction effects between genotype and diagnosis in amygdala activity or connectivity. Conclusions: Significant independent effects of genotype and diagnosis on amygdala responsivity were revealed. The effects of genotype and diagnosis on amygdala connectivity showed a regional segregation, suggesting that 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms bias frontal-limbic connectivity while the development of depression involves more extensive neural disturbances. These findings point to the potential of connectivity maps as a diagnostic biomarker for depression.
- Serotonin transporter