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Stable relationships depend on brain chemistry


Scientists have found a gene that affects the way men bond to their partners.[1] The gene 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 (allele 334) are more likely to have a marital or relationship problem than those who lacked the gene variant. The research found that men without the allele had more stable relationships with their partners. Men with two alleles were less likely to show enough commitment in their relationships.

Earlier studies had found similar results in animals. Prairie voles form lifetime bonds with their mates and help to raise successive litters. On the other hand, montane voles which are physically very similar, do not bond with the females and do not help to raise their offspring. The animal experiments showed that by manipulating the vasopressin receptors, montane voles could be changed into devoted partners and prairie voles could be changed into unsupportive parents.

Vasopessin is a small peptide consisting of 9 amino acids which is very similar to oxytocin, a maternal hormone that stimulates mammary glands and helps to bond a mother to her child. About 40 percent of men have one or two copies of allele 334. The median duration of first marriages that end in divorce is about 7.8 years. In the future, it may be possible to have premarital genetic tests that could be used to predict the chances of a successful marriage and avoid the chances of marrying a womanizer or a deadbeat dad.
Learn about aminoacids and peptide hormones

[1] Hasse Walum, Lars Westberg, Susanne Henningsson, Jenae M. Neiderhiser, David Reiss, Wilmar Igl, Jody M. Ganiban, Erica L. Spotts, Nancy L. Pedersen, Elias Eriksson and Paul Lichtenstein, Genetic variation in the vasopressin receptor 1a gene (AVPR1A) associates with pair-bonding behavior in humans, PNAS Early Edition, 2-5 September 2008.

Comments »

Justin said,
2008-09-03 @ 02:46:27

I wonder if this could help someone make legal claims. For example, someone could argue to a judge that his alimony payments should be reduced or eliminated on the basis that he is genetically inclined to have relational problems. Obviously there is much more to making a relationship work than genetics, but this opens the door to people using genetics as an excuse.

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