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Neuropsychobiology. 2007;56(4):191-6. doi: 10.1159/000120624. Epub 2008 Mar 13.

Association of MAO-A variant with complicated grief in major depression.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Munster, M√ľnster, Germany.



It has been suggested that monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) activity is involved in the pathogenesis of major depression. Bereavement-related complicated grief significantly increases the risk of major depression and has been shown to be influenced by serotonergic tonus, possibly conferred by MAO-A activity. Complicated grief--whose inclusion in DSM-V as a separate mental disorder is under discussion--has been shown to be a distinct syndrome with symptoms not seen in depression. Therefore, in the present study, genetic variation in the MAO-A gene was investigated for its influence on complicated grief in major depression.


Sixty-six unrelated Caucasian patients (41 female, 25 male) with major depression and a history of bereavement were evaluated for complicated grief using the Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG), the posttraumatic stress reaction after the loss by means of the Impact of Event Scale (IES-R) and further psychopathological measures. Patients were additionally genotyped for the functional variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) in the promoter region of the MAO-A gene.


The more active longer allele of the MAO-A VNTR was significantly associated with complicated grief in the female subgroup of patients (chi(2) = 9.471, p = 0.002, OR = 9.208, 95% CI 2.129-38.899, Bonferroni-corrected p = 0.012), whereas there was no such effect in male patients. Higher posttraumatic stress reaction was only nominally associated with the more active longer allele of the MAO-A VNTR in the female subgroup of patients (genotypes: chi(2) = 5.939, p = 0.015, OR = 5.333, 95% CI 1.366-20.557, Bonferroni-corrected p = 0.087). No significant associations of MAO-A VNTR with the severity of depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory), anxiety symptoms (Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), general mental health (Brief Symptom Inventory), or perceived social support (F-SozU) were found (all p > 0.10).


The present pilot study for the first time suggests a gender-specific contribution of the more active MAO-A VNTR variant to an increased vulnerability for complicated grief as a potential intermediate phenotype of major depression.

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