Association of low-activity MAOA allelic variants with violent crime in incarcerated offenders




Dean A. Stetleremail, Chad Davis, Kathryn Leavitt, Ilana Schriger, Katie Benson, Samir Bhakta, Lam Chee Wang, Cynthia Oben, Matthew Watters, Tara Haghnegahdar, Marco Bortolato

Journal of Psychiatric Research

November 2014



The main enzyme for serotonin degradation, monoamine oxidase (MAO) A, has recently emerged as a key biological factor in the predisposition to impulsive aggression. Male carriers of low-activity variants of the main functional polymorphism of the MAOA gene (MAOA-uVNTR) have been shown to exhibit a greater proclivity to engage in violent acts. Thus, we hypothesized that low-activity MAOA-uVNTR alleles may be associated with a higher risk for criminal violence among male offenders. To test this possibility, we analyzed the MAOA-uVNTR variants of violent (n = 49) and non-violent (n = 40) male Caucasian and African-American convicts in a correctional facility. All participants were also tested with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11) and Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire (BPAQ) to assess their levels of childhood trauma exposure, impulsivity and aggression, respectively. Our results revealed a robust (P < 0.0001) association between low-activity MAOA-uVNTR alleles and violent crime. This association was replicated in the group of Caucasian violent offenders (P < 0.01), but reached only a marginal trend (P = 0.08) in their African American counterparts. While violent crime charges were not associated with CTQ, BIS-11 and BPAQ scores, carriers of low-activity alleles exhibited a mild, yet significant (P < 0.05) increase in BIS-11 total and attentional-impulsiveness scores. In summary, these findings support the role of MAOA gene as a prominent genetic determinant for criminal violence. Further studies are required to confirm these results in larger samples of inmates and evaluate potential interactions between MAOA alleles and environmental vulnerability factors.









Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee