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4 September 2008
The genetics of romantic attachment
by George Atkinson

Swedish scientists at the Karolinska Institute have found a link between a specific gene and the way men bond to their partners. Writing about their findings in the journal PNAS, the researchers say the discovery could lead to a better understanding of problems such as autism and social phobia.

Lead researcher Hasse Walum explained that the gene in the study - allele 334 - codes for one of the receptors for vasopressin, a hormone found in the brains of most mammals. Men who carry one or two copies of a variant of this gene often behave differently in relationships than men who lack this gene variant.

Specifically, the incidence of allele 334 was linked to how strong a bond a man felt he had with his partner. Men who had two copies of allele 334 were also twice as likely to have had a marital or relational crisis in the past year than those who lacked the gene variant. There was also a correlation between the men's gene variant and what their respective partners thought about their relationship. "Women married to men who carry one or two copies of allele 334 were, on average, less satisfied with their relationship than women married to men who didn't carry this allele," said Walum.

Interestingly, the same gene has been previously studied in voles, where it has been linked to monogamous behavior in males. "The fact that the corresponding gene has proved important for similar behavior in voles makes our findings even more interesting, and suggests that the thoroughly studied brain mechanisms that we know give rise to strong bonds between individual voles can also be relevant to humans," Walum noted.

Walum concluded by cautioning that the effect of the genetic variation is relatively modest, and that "there are, of course, many [other] reasons why a person might have relationship problems."

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Source: Karolinska Institute

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