Biological Psychology: The serotonin transporter gene and startle response during nicotine deprivation
Affective startle probe methodology was used to examine the effects of nicotine administration and deprivation on emotional processes among individuals carrying at least one s allele versus those with the l/l genotype of the 5-Hydroxytryptamine (Serotonin) Transporter Linked Polymorphic Region, 5-HTTLPR in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene [solute ligand carrier family 6 member A4 (SLC6A4) or SERT]. Smokers (n=84) completed four laboratory sessions crossing deprivation (12-h deprived vs. non-deprived) with nicotine spray (nicotine vs. placebo). Participants viewed affective pictures (positive, negative, neutral) while acoustic startle probes were administered. We found that smokers with the l/l genotype showed significantly greater suppression of the startle response when provided with nicotine vs. placebo than those with the s/s or s/l genotypes. The results suggest that l/l smokers, who may have higher levels of the serotonin transporter and more rapid synaptic serotonin clearance, experience a substantial reduction in activation of the defensive system when exposed to nicotine.