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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Jul;36(6):891-7. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.12.004. Epub 2011 Jan 3.

Variant in oxytocin receptor gene is associated with amygdala volume.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, United States.


The oxytocin system plays a significant role in modulating stress responses in animals and humans; perturbations in this system may contribute to the pathogenesis of psychiatric disorder. Attempts to identify clinically relevant genetic variants in the oxytocin system have yielded associations between polymorphisms of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene and both autism and major depression. To date, however, little is known about how such variants affect brain structures implicated in these disorders. Applying a manual tracing procedure to high-resolution structural magnetic resonance images, amygdala volumes were measured in 51 girls genotyped on OXTR rs2254298(G>A), a single nucleotide polymorphism associated with psychopathology. Results of this study indicate that despite having greater gray matter volume, participants homozygous for the G allele were characterized by smaller volumes of both left and right amygdala than were carriers of the A allele. A subsequent whole-brain voxel-based morphometry analysis revealed additional genotype-mediated volumetric group differences in the posterior brain stem and dorsomedial anterior cingulate cortex. These findings highlight one neurobiological pathway by which oxytocin gene variants may increase risk for psychopathology. Further research is needed to characterize the mechanism by which this polymorphism contributes to anatomical variability and to identify functional correlates of these alterations in regional brain volume.

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