DNA methylation in the 5-HTT regulatory region is associated with CO2-induced fear in panic disorder patients

N. K. Leibold*, M. T. Weidner, C. Ziegler, G. Ortega, K. Domschke, K. P. Lesch, D. L. Van den Hove, K. R. Schruers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A polymorphism in the gene encoding the serotonin (5-HT) transporter (5-HTT) has been shown to moderate the response to CO2 inhalation, an experimental model for panic attacks (PAs). Recurrent, unpredictable PAs represent, together with anticipatory anxiety of recurring attacks, the core feature of panic disorder (PD) and significantly interfere with patients' daily life. In addition to genetic components, accumulating evidence suggests that epigenetic mechanisms, which regulate gene expression by modifying chromatin structure, also play a fundamental role in the etiology of mental disorders. However, in PD, epigenetic mechanisms have barely been examined to date. In the present study, we investigated the relationship between methylation at the regulatory region of the gene encoding the 5-HTT and the reactivity to a 35% CO2 inhalation in PD patients. We focused on four specific CpG sites and found a significant association between the methylation level of one of these CpG sites and the fear response. This suggests that the emotional response to CO2 inhalation might be moderated by an epigenetic mechanism, and underlines the implication of the 5-HT system in PAs. Future studies are needed to further investigate epigenetic alterations in PD and their functional consequences. These insights can increase our understanding of the underlying pathophysiology and support the development of new treatment strategies. (c) 2020 Elsevier B.V. and ECNP. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-159
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Neuropsychopharmacology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Panic attacks
  • Serotonin transporter
  • Epigenetics
  • Carbon dioxide

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