The serotonin (5-HT) and norepinephrine (NE) systems are likely involved in the aetiology of anorexia nervosa (AN) as sufferers are premorbidly anxious. Specifically, we hypothesize that genes encoding proteins, which clear 5-HT and NE from the synapse, are prime candidates for affecting susceptibility to AN. Supporting our hypothesis, we earlier showed that the NE transporter (NET) and monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genes appear to contribute additively to increased risk of developing restricting AN (AN-R). With regard to the MAOA gene, a sequence variant that increases MAOA activity and has suggested association with the anxiety condition, panic disorder was preferentially transmitted from parents to affected children. Here we provide evidence in support of interaction between the MAOA and serotonin transporter (SERT) genes in 114 AN nuclear families (patient with AN plus biological parents). A SERT gene genotype with no apparent individual effect on risk and known to be associated with anxiety is preferentially transmitted to children with AN (χ2 trend=9.457, 1 df, P=0.0021) and AN-R alone (χ2 trend=7.477, 1 df, P=0.0063) when the ‘more active’ MAOA gene variant is also transmitted. The increased risk of developing the disorder is up to eight times greater than the risk imposed by the MAOA gene variant alone – an example of synergistic epistatic interaction. If independently replicated, our findings to date suggest that we may have identified three genes affecting susceptibility to AN, particularly AN-R: the MAOA, SERT, and NET genes.
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We specially thank the young people and their families for participating. We are grateful to B Bennetts for a helpful discussion on linkage disequilibrium, and to B Bennetts, V Wiley and K Carpenter for the use of their laboratories, and to those who helped recruit the study participants. This work was funded by the Children's Hospital Fund.
About this article
- eating disorders
- genetic epistasis
- amino-acid oxidoreductases
- biogenic amine neurotransmitters
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