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A genetic basis for behavior in infancy

Infants' early attachment to their parents or caregivers has been considered essential for survival in the human species. Ainsworth and colleagues devised an experimental procedure, the Strange Situation, and described marked individual differences in infants' coping with the stress elicited by two consecutive 3-minute separations from the caregiver. Three basic, coherently organized patterns of infant behavior after reunion with the parent (secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-resistant) have been regarded as adaptations to the experienced differences in care giving. About 15% of one-year-old infants in non-clinical, low-risk and up to 80% in high-risk (e.g. maltreated) populations show 'atypical' incoherent, contradictory behavior in the presence of the caregiver as if their behavioral strategy collapsed under the stress of the Strange Situation. This behavior, termed 'disorganized attachment' is assumed to reflect the infant's experience of being unable to resolve anxiety.

It has also been shown that disorganization of early attachment is a major risk factor for the development of childhood behavior problems. Attachment disorganization has been supposed to be specifically related to the infant-caregiver relationship. The only child factors that have previously been found to predict disorganized attachment in a non-clinical, low-risk population are poor neonatal orientation and emotional regulation. In the authors previous report the authors suggested that a certain structural variant of the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) gene might impose a risk on development of disorganized attachment. The dopamine D4 receptor gene has already been associated with pathological impulsive, compulsive behavior, substance abuse in adults, and with infant temperament traits of negative emotionality and maladaptive behavioral problems, especially attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

The authors have previously reported an association between the
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Contact: Karl Lorenzen
molecularpsychiatry@mednet.ucla.edu
310-206-6739
Molecular Psychiatry
7-Jan-2002


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