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Preadoption adversity, MAOA, and behavioral adjustment in internationally adopted Chinese girls

Li, Juna; Tan, Tony Xingb; Camras, Linda A.c; Chen, Chuanshengd; Moyzis, Robert K.e

doi: 10.1097/YPG.0000000000000049
Original Articles

Objectives We studied postinstitutionalized adopted Chinese girls to determine whether those with different variants of the MAOA gene promoter region (MAOA-VNTR) differed in their internalizing and externalizing behavior problems and whether the MAOA genotype moderated the relation between preadoption adversity and current behavior problems.

Methods MAOA genotyping was obtained for 94 girls (mean age: 9.2 years) and the number of 4-repeat (4R) alleles was determined (zero, one, or two). The adoptive mothers rated several indicators of preadoption adversity shortly after adoption (mean age at adoption 15.8 months) and completed the Child Behavior Checklist when the children were 8.1 years on average.

Results No main effects were found for preadoption adversity. However, the MAOA genotype had a nominally significant effect (P<0.05) on internalizing problems. Regression analyses controlling for age, household income, authoritarian parenting, and family problems showed that among children with no physical signs of preadoption adversity, those carrying a greater number of 4R alleles scored significantly lower (P<0.01) on internalizing problems than those with fewer 4R alleles. Differences in internalizing scores related to the MAOA genotype were not observed for children who showed one or more physical signs of adversity at the time of adoption. A similar pattern was found for externalizing problems, although the results did not reach conventional levels of significance.

Conclusion Our results suggest that higher MAOA activity may be protective with respect to internalizing problems in internationally adopted Chinese girls, but that this protective effect decreases at higher levels of preadoption adversity. A similar pattern may exist for externalizing problems.

aState Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning & IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research and Center for Collaboaration and Innovation in Brain and Learning Sciences, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

bDepartment of Educational and Psychological Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida

cDepartment of Psychology, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois

dSchool of Social Ecology

eDepartment of Biological Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, California, USA

Correspondence to Linda A. Camras, PhD, Department of Psychology, DePaul University, 2219N. Kenmore Ave., Chicago, IL 60659, USA Tel: +1 773 583 8929; fax: +1 773 754 7949; e-mail:

Received December 9, 2013

Accepted June 12, 2014

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins