The association of serotonin receptor 3A methylation with maternal violence exposure, neural activity, and child aggression

Schechter, Daniel S.; Moser, Dominik A.; Pointet, Virginie; Aue, Tatjana; Stenz, Ludwig; Dayer, Alexandre G. (2017). The association of serotonin receptor 3A methylation with maternal violence exposure, neural activity, and child aggression. Behavioural brain research, 325(Pt B), pp. 268-277. Elsevier 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.10.009

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Background: Methylation of the serotonin 3A receptor gene (HTR3A) has been linked to child maltreatment and adult psychopathology. The present study examined whether HTR3A methylation might be associated with mothers' lifetime exposure to interpersonal violence (IPV), IPV-related psychopathology, child disturbance of attachment, and maternal neural activity.
Methods: Number of maternal lifetime IPV exposures and measures of maternal psychopathology including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression and aggressive behavior (AgB), and a measure of child attachment disturbance known as “secure base distortion” (SBD) were assessed in a sample of 35 mothers and children aged 12–42 months. Brain fMRI activation was assessed in mothers using 30-s silent film excerpts depicting menacing adult male-female interactions versus prosocial and neutral interactions. Group and continuous analyses were performed to test for associations between clinical and fMRI variables with DNA methylation.
Results: Maternal IPV exposure-frequency was associated with maternal PTSD; and maternal IPV-PTSD was in turn associated with child SBD. Methylation status of several CpG sites in the HTR3A gene was associated with maternal IPV and IPV-PTSD severity, AgB and child SBD, in particular, self-endangering behavior. Methylation status at a specific CpG site (CpG2_III) was associated with decreased medial prefrontal cortical (mPFC) activity in response to film-stimuli of adult male-female interactions evocative of violence as compared to prosocial and neutral interactions.
Conclusions: Methylation status of the HTR3A gene in mothers is linked to maternal IPV-related psychopathology, trauma-induced brain activation patterns, and child attachment disturbance in the form of SBD during a sensitive period in the development of self-regulation.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Psychological and Behavioral Health

UniBE Contributor:

Aue, Tatjana


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health






[4] Swiss National Science Foundation ; [UNSPECIFIED] Gertrude von Meissner Foundation ; [UNSPECIFIED] Fondation Prim’Enfance




Tatjana Aue Seil

Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2017 14:38

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:04

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Maternal posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Interpersonal violence, Serotonin receptor, Epigenetics,fMRI, Attachment disorder




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