Genetic moderation of CO2-induced fear by 5-HTTLPR genotype

Koen Schruers*, Gabriel Esquivel, Marlies van Duinen, Marieke Wichers, Gunter Kenis, Alessandro Colasanti, Inge Knuts, Lies Goossens, Nele Jacobs, Jalet van Rozendaal, Hubert Smeets, Jim van Os, Eric Griez

*Corresponding author for this work

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Inhalation of an increased concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) has been shown to induce a state of negative affect in healthy subjects that is closely related to the clinical phenomenon of panic. It has been suggested that the vulnerability to CO2 is moderated by differences in serotonin (5-HT) activity, caused by a functional polymorphism in the promoter region of the 5-HT transporter (5-HTTLPR) gene. Our aim was to examine the relationship between bi-and tri-allelic 5-HTTLPR genotype and the affective response to different dosages of inhaled CO2 in healthy volunteers. Ninety-six subjects performed a double inhalation of four mixtures containing, respectively, 0%, 9%, 17.5% and 35% CO2, following a double-blind, cross-over, randomized design. Affective responses were measured with a visual analogue scale for fear and the Panic Symptom List. 5-HTTLPR genotype was expressed as LL, SL and SS. Subjects with the SL and SS genotype reported less fear than LL subjects. A significant interaction effect was found between genotype and CO2 dosage: the SS genotype showed lower fear scores than the LL genotype, particularly in the 17.5% CO2 dose condition. The present study suggests that the dose-dependent fear reaction to CO2 is moderated by a polymorphism in the 5-HT transporter gene, particularly at intermediate CO2 dosages. It also underscores the usefulness of the introduction of an intermediate phenotype related to panic to reveal an underlying genetic vulnerability otherwise staying elusive. These results are in line with current theories on the role of 5-HT in both panic and respiration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-42
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


  • SLC6A4
  • anxiety
  • carbon dioxide
  • panic disorder
  • 5-HT transporter gene

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