A polymorphism of the MAOA gene is associated with emotional brain markers and personality traits on an antisocial index

Leanne M. Williams, Justine M. Gatt, Stacey A. Kuan, Carol Dobson-Stone, Donna M. Palmer, Robert H. Paul, Le Song, Paul T. Costa, Peter R. Schofield, Evian Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Association studies suggest that the low activity variant of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA)-uVNTR polymorphism confers risk for emotional disturbances associated with antisocial traits, particularly in males. Here, we assessed the low (MAOA-L) activity variant in relation to both brain function and a behavioral index of antisocial traits. From an initial sample of 290 healthy participants, 210 had low (MAOA-L) or high (MAOA-H) activity variants. Participants underwent a brief assessment of personality traits and event-related potential (ERP) recording during an emotion-processing task. Genotype differences in ERPs were localized using LORETA. The MAOA-L genotype was distinguished by elevated scores on the index of antisocial traits. These traits were related to altered ERPs elicited 120-280ms post-stimulus, particularly for negative emotion. Altered neural processing of anger in MAOA-L genotypes was localized to medial frontal, parietal, and superior temporo-occipital regions in males, but only to the superior occipital cortex in females. The MAOA low activity variant may increase susceptibility to antisocial traits through alterations to the neural systems for processing threat-related emotion, especially for males. Monoamines such as noradrenalin and serotonin may modulate these relationships, given that their metabolism varies according to MAOA variants, and that they modulate both emotional brain systems and antisocial aggression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1797-1809
Number of pages13
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Antisocial traits
  • Event-related potentials (ERPs)
  • Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype
  • NEO personality factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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