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Genetic moderation of the association between adolescent romantic involvement and depression: Contributions of serotonin transporter gene polymorphism, chronic stress, and family discord

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2015

Lisa R. Starr*
University of Rochester
Constance Hammen
University of California, Los Angeles
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lisa R. Starr, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, 491 Meliora, Box 270266, Rochester, NY 14627; E-mail:


Studies support a link between adolescent romantic involvement and depression. Adolescent romantic relationships may increase depression risk by introducing chronic stress, and genetic vulnerability to stress reactivity/emotion dysregulation may moderate these associations. We tested genetic moderation of longitudinal associations between adolescent romantic involvement and later depressive symptoms by a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region gene (5-HTTLPR) and examined contributory roles of chronic stress and family discord. Three hundred eighty-one youth participated at ages 15 and 20. The results indicated that 5-HTTLPR moderated the association between age 15 romantic involvement and age 20 depressive symptoms, with strongest effects for short homozygotes. Conditional process analysis revealed that chronic stress functioned as a moderated mediator of this association, fully accounting for the romantic involvement–depression link among short/short genotypes. Also, romantic involvement predicted later depressive symptoms most strongly among short-allele carriers with high family discord. The results have important implications for understanding the romantic involvement–depression link and the behavioral and emotional correlates of the 5-HTTLPR genotype.

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