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Advisory Committee Chair

William C Cockerham

Advisory Committee Members

Jonathan K Daw

Belinda L Needham

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2014

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) has been associated with both depression and alcohol use disorders in previous gene-environment interaction studies, but these associations have not been consistent. Previous research on mental health has posited that depression and alcohol use disorders are functionally equivalent manifestations of distress, with men displaying alcohol use disorders and women displaying depression in response to stress. This paper assesses whether the presence of the risk-conferring serotonin gene alleles increase an individual's chance of expressing distress as either depression or alcohol use disorders, depending on gender. The hypotheses that more symptoms of depression would be present in women who had more copies of the risk alleles compared to others, while more symptoms of alcohol use disorders would be present in men who had more copies of the risk alleles compared to others were tested. Data comes from waves I and IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The dependent variables are the number of symptoms of depression as measured by the CES-D and the number of symptoms of DSM-IV criteria for either alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. The main explanatory variables include serotonin gene genotype and sex as a proxy for gender identity. The hypotheses were first tested using linear regression with ordinary least squares estimators, then with linear fixed effects regression in a siblings only sample to control for population stratification. No evidence of a gene-environment interaction of gender by serotonin allele in either alcohol use disorders or depression was found, therefore the hypotheses were not supported. However, future studies using measures of gender that incorporate more of the social constructs of the concept may be successful in showing a gene-environment interaction. The implications of the lack of results are discussed.

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