A putatively functional polymorphism in the HTR2C gene is associated with depressive symptoms in white females reporting significant life stress.


Psychosocial stress is well known to be positively associated with subsequent depressive symptoms. Cortisol response to stress may be one of a number of biological mechanisms that links psychological stress to depressive symptoms, although the precise causal pathway remains unclear. Activity of the x-linked serotonin 5-HTR2C receptor has also been shown to be associated with depression and with clinical response to antidepressant medications. We recently demonstrated that variation in a single nucleotide polymorphism on the HTR2C gene, rs6318 (Ser23Cys), is associated with different cortisol release and short-term changes in affect in response to a series of stress tasks in the laboratory. Based on this observation, we decided to examine whether rs6318 might moderate the association between psychosocial stress and subsequent depressive symptoms. In the present study we use cross-sectional data from a large population-based sample of young adult White men (N = 2,366) and White women (N = 2,712) in the United States to test this moderation hypothesis. Specifically, we hypothesized that the association between self-reported stressful life events and depressive symptoms would be stronger among homozygous Ser23 C females and hemizygous Ser23 C males than among Cys23 G carriers. In separate within-sex analyses a genotype-by-life stress interaction was observed for women (p = .022) but not for men (p = .471). Homozygous Ser23 C women who reported high levels of life stress had depressive symptom scores that were about 0.3 standard deviations higher than female Cys23 G carriers with similarly high stress levels. In contrast, no appreciable difference in depressive symptoms was observed between genotypes at lower levels of stress. Our findings support prior work that suggests a functional SNP on the HTR2C gene may confer an increased risk for depressive symptoms in White women with a history of significant life stress.





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Publication Info

Brummett, Beverly H, Michael A Babyak, Redford B Williams, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Rong Jiang, William E Kraus, Abanish Singh, Paul T Costa, et al. (2014). A putatively functional polymorphism in the HTR2C gene is associated with depressive symptoms in white females reporting significant life stress. PloS one, 9(12). p. e114451. 10.1371/journal.pone.0114451 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/17608.

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



Beverly H. Brummett

Associate Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

In the early part of my career, my work generally focused on examining psychosocial determinants or correlates (e.g., emotion, personality, and socioeconomic status) of cardiovascular disease.  However, in the past several years, my work has also expanded to include examining how stressful emotional responses, combined with proposed genetic markers, influence metabolic functioning, cognitive decline, functional capacity and quality of live in the elderly, depressive symptomology, and major depressive disorder.  I also have an interest in statistical methodology. 


Michael Alan Babyak

Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Since coming to Duke as an intern in 1994 I have collaborated as a biostatistician and co-investigator at Duke on numerous observational and experimental studies involving behavior, psychosocial factors, health, and disease. The substantive topics have ranged across questions concerning exercise and depression, hypertension, weight loss, the genetics of stress and heart disease, sickle cell disease, to name a few. I am particularly interested in the issue of improving reproducibility and transparency in data analysis.


Redford B. Williams

Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research aims to identify psychosocial factors that are involved in the pathogenesis and course of major medical disorders, to characterize the biobehavioral mechanisms whereby such factors influence disease, and to develop both behavioral and pharmacologic means of preventing or ameliorating the adverse impact of psychosocial factors on health and disease. Specific projects that are currently active include: 1) The influence of hostile personality, social isolation, depression and other psychosocial risk factors upon the development and course of cardiometabolic disease; 2) Biological and genetic mechanisms whereby psychosocial risk factors influence disease development and course; and 3) Behavioral and pharmacologic approaches to ameliorate impact of psychosocial risk factors on disease risk and course.


Rong Jiang

Assistant Professor in Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences

Abanish Singh

Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

With a unique skill set resulting from outstanding training, my sole aim was to help improve human health through cutting-edge translational research. Specifically, I have been interested in illuminating the mechanisms responsible for the causes and progression of the leading public health conditions, which may help with the development and enhancement of precision medicine.  As part of this endeavor, I also became interested in studying the measurement of biobehavioral risk factors and environmental stressors and their interactions with genes that may influence cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and endophenotypes, adversely affecting the CVD pathways.

I joined medical research with my early research training on computational biology, high-throughput genomics, next-gen DNA sequencing, genome-wide studies, and big data analytics, which resulted in some of prominent findings on human genome (PMID: 18048317, PMID: 20223737, PMID: 20598109, PMID: 21703177). These findings included a significant contribution to the scientific community’s understanding that I made during my postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. David Goldstein at Duke Center for Human Genome Variation that how well RNA-Seq can identify human coding variants just using a small fraction of genome (transcriptome) as compared to whole genome (PMID: 20598109). This work was important not only scientifically, but also in pragmatic terms, given the high cost of sequencing.

In relatively recent work I discovered a novel CVD risk gene EBF1, where  a common genetic variant contributed to inter-individual differences in human central obesity, fasting blood glucose, diabetes, and CVD risk factors in the presence of chronic psychosocial stress (PMID: 25271088). This work demonstrated the genetic variant-specific significant path from chronic psychosocial stress to common carotid intimal–media thickness (CCIMT), a surrogate marker for atherosclerosis, via central obesity and fasting glucose. I also developed an algorithm to create a synthetic measure of stress using the proxy indicators of its components (PMID: 26202568).  Other more recent work has elucidated the race, sex, and age related differences in the EBF1 gene-by-stress interaction (PMID: 33077726), which suggests the need for careful evaluation of environmental measures in different ethnicities in cross-ethnic gene-by-stress interaction studies.

More recently, I have expanded my research interest in studying the genetic architecture of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the role of psychosocial stress in modifying the effect of genetic variants on the disease risks.


Anastasia Georgiades

Research Scientist

Dr Georgiades research has focused on evaluating bio-behavioral risk-factors, in particular the role mental stress, in the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She have written and co-authored over 45 papers in the area of behavioral medicine and have vast experience from designing experimental studies and evaluating epidemiological cohort studies. In addition, she has been co-investigator on intervention studies examining the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management and exercise programs in diabetic, hypertensive and cardiac patients.

For the past 10 years, her focus been to examine the role of stress and stress hormones in glucose regulation. Results from her recent studies suggest that increased stress hormone activity, manifested as elevated circulating epinephrine after a glucose challenge, interact with central adiposity in the prediction of increased glucose levels in obese individuals.

Dr Georgiades is presently a collaborator on a Program Project Grant (PPG) lead by Dr Redford Williams. The aim of her work within the PPG is to study the relationship between behavioral factors and various measures of glucose metabolism and identify genes/loci that account for the clustering of metabolic abnormalities with cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, platelet function and inflammatory markers.  The overall aim of the PPG is to increase understanding of the gene-environment interactions that contribute to pathogenic mechanisms whereby psychosocial and biobehavioral risk factors increase risk for cardiovascular disease.


Ilene C. Siegler

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research efforts are in the area of developmental health psychology and organized around understanding the role of personality in health and disease in middle and later life.

My primary research activity is as Principal Investigator of the UNC Alumni Heart Study (UNCAHS) a prospective epidemiologic study of 5000 middle aged men and women and 1200 of their spouses that evaluates the role of personality on coronary heart disease and coronary heart disease risk, cancer, and normal aging.

As head of Cancer Prevention Research Unit , I study the role of psychological factors related to mammography behavior and estrogen replacement therapy is being studied in UNCAHS women.


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