ADORA2A Gene Variation, Caffeine, and Emotional Processing: A Multi-level Interaction on Startle Reflex

Katharina Domschke*, Agnieszka Gajewska, Bernward Winter, Martin J. Herrmann, Bodo Warrings, Andreas Muehlberger, Katherina Wosnitza, Evelyn Glotzbach, Annette Conzelmann, Andrea Dlugos, Manfred Fobker, Christian Jacob, Volker Arolt, Andreas Reif, Paul Pauli, Peter Zwanzger, Juergen Deckert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


There is converging evidence for genetic, biochemical, and neuropsychological factors to increase the risk for anxiety and anxiety disorders. The pathogenesis of anxiety disorders is assumed to be influenced by a complex interaction of these individual risk factors on several levels, affecting intermediate phenotypes of anxiety such as the startle reflex. Thus, in the present double-blind, placebo-controlled study we attempted to paradigmatically investigate a multi-level pathogenetic model of anxiety by testing the effect of 300?mg caffeine citrate as an antagonist at the adenosine A2A receptor vs placebo on the emotion-potentiated (unpleasant, neutral, and pleasant International Affective Picture System pictures) startle reflex in 110 healthy individuals (male=56, female=54) stratified for the adenosine A2A receptor (ADORA2A) 1976T>C polymorphism (rs5751876). In addition to the expected main effect of picture category (highest startle amplitude for unpleasant, lowest for pleasant pictures) groups across all ADORA2A 1976T>C genotype and intervention (caffeine vs placebo) groups, an interaction effect of genotype, intervention, and picture category was discerned: In ADORA2A 1976TT risk genotype carriers, highest startle magnitudes were observed after caffeine administration in response to unpleasant pictures, with this effect arising particularly from the female subgroup. Our data point to a complex, multi-level, and potentially gender-specific pathogenetic model of anxiety, with genetic and biochemical factors interactively increasing the risk of maladaptive emotional processing and thereby possibly also anxiety disorders. The present findings may eventually aid in improving primary and secondary prevention by sharpening the risk profiles of anxiety-prone individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)759-769
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • adenosine
  • caffeine
  • panic disorder
  • emotional processing
  • startle

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