The 88th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2019)

Association of MAOA and HTTLPR genetic variants, trauma, resilience, and psychosocial outcomes in Syrian refugee youth


1Anthropology, University of Florida, 2Genetics Institute, University of Florida, 3Biology and Biotechnology, Hashemite University, 4Taghyeer Foundation, Taghyeer Foundation, 5School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, 6Anthropology, Yale University

March 28, 2019 , CC Room 26 C Add to calendar

Genetic influences on responses to psychosocial stress and trauma is a topic of great import. For refugee populations, the impact of stressful adversity on their health and development is particularly important to understand. The MAOA gene and HTTLPR region of the serotonin transporter gene (HTT), in association with childhood adversity, have been previously linked to aggressive behavior and depression, respectively. However, few studies have examined the combined effect of genetic variants and protective factors, such as resilience, on response to trauma exposure.

We tested Syrian refugees for associations between trauma exposure, resilience, genetic variants, and six measures of psychosocial stress and mental health. Data were collected from a cohort of 399 Syrian adolescents (ages 12 -18), forcibly displaced to Jordan as a result of the ongoing war. Buccal swabs, sociodemographic data, and mental health measures were collected over three time points (baseline, ~10 weeks, ~52 weeks). Levels of resilience that captured individual, interpersonal, and social resources were measured for a subset of the sample (n = 320). Using multilevel modeling, MAOA exhibited a direct effect on scores on the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) (p = 8.6 x 10-4) in males only. However, when resilience was added to the model, the associations of MAOA and trauma with PSS were attenuated, suggesting the importance of resilience above other factors. No associations with any of the six psychosocial measures were found with HTTLPR. This work highlights the value of longitudinal research that integrates genetic and self-reported data on psychosocial health and resilience.

Funded by University of Florida, Elrha’s Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) Programme (Wellcome Trust and UK Government), National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (DGE-1315138 and DGE-1842473).