Oxytocin receptor polymorphism and childhood social experiences shape adult personality, brain structure and neural correlates of mentalizing

H. Schneider-Hassloff*, B. Straube, A. Jansen, B. Nuscheler, G. Wemken, S. H. Witt, M. Rietschel, T. Kircher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The oxytocin system is involved in human social behavior and social cognition such as attachment, emotion recognition and mentalizing (i.e. the ability to represent mental states of oneself and others). It is shaped by social experiences in early life, especially by parent-infant interactions. The single nucleotid polymorphism rs53576 in the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene has been linked to social behavioral phenotypes.In 195 adult healthy subjects we investigated the interaction of OXTR rs53576 and childhood attachment security (CAS) on the personality traits "adult attachment style" and "alexithymia" (i.e. emotional self-awareness), on brain structure (voxel-based morphometry) and neural activation (fMRI) during an interactive mentalizing paradigm (prisoner's dilemma game; subgroup: n=163).We found that in GG-homozygotes, but not in A-allele carriers, insecure childhood attachment is - in adulthood - associated with a) higher attachment-related anxiety and alexithymia, b) higher brain gray matter volume of left amygdala and lower volumes in right superior parietal lobule (SPL), left temporal pole (TP), and bilateral frontal regions, and c) higher mentalizing-related neural activity in bilateral TP and precunei, and right middle and superior frontal gyri. Interaction effects of genotype and CAS on brain volume and/or function were associated with individual differences in alexithymia and attachment-related anxiety. Interactive effects were in part sexually dimorphic.The interaction of OXTR genotype and CAS modulates adult personality as well as brain structure and function of areas implicated in salience processing and mentalizing. Rs53576 GG-homozygotes are partially more susceptible to childhood attachment experiences than A-allele carriers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671-684
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • rs53576
  • Attachment
  • Alexithymia
  • fMRI
  • VBM
  • Social cognition
  • Theory-of-mind

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