Genetic sensitivity to emotional cues, racial discrimination and depressive symptoms among African–American adolescent females

Jessica M. Sales, Jennifer L. Brown, Andrea L. Swartzendruber, Erica L. Smearman, Gene H. Brody, Ralph DiClemente

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychosocial stress, including stress resulting from racial discrimination (RD), has been associated with elevated depressive symptoms. However, individuals vary in their reactivity to stress, with some variability resulting from genetic differences. Specifically, genetic variation within the linked promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) is related to heightened reactivity to emotional environmental cues. Likewise, variations within this region may interact with stressful life events (e.g., discrimination) to influence depressive symptoms, but this has not been empirically examined in prior studies. The objective of this study was to examine whether variation in the 5-HTTLPR gene interacts with RD to predict depressive symptoms among a sample of African–American adolescent females. Participants were 304 African–American adolescent females enrolled in a sexually transmitted disease prevention trial. Participants completed a baseline survey assessing psychosocial factors including RD (low vs. high) and depressive symptomatology (low vs. high) and provided a saliva sample for genotyping the risk polymorphism 5-HTTLPR (s allele present vs. not present). In a logistic regression model adjusting for psychosocial correlates of depressive symptoms, an interaction between RD and 5-HTTLPR group was significantly associated with depressive symptomatology (AOR = 3.79, 95% CI: 1.20–11.98, p = 0.02). Follow-up tests found that high RD was significantly associated with greater odds of high depressive symptoms only for participants with the s allele. RD and 5-HTTLPR status interact to differentially impact depressive symptoms among African–American adolescent females. Efforts to decrease depression among minority youth should include interventions which address RD and strengthen factors (e.g., coping, emotion regulation, building support systems) which protect youth from the psychological costs of discrimination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number854
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - Jun 22 2015


  • 5-HTTLPR
  • adolescents
  • depressive symptoms
  • genetic sensitivity
  • racial discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Genetic sensitivity to emotional cues, racial discrimination and depressive symptoms among African–American adolescent females'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this