Arginine vasopressin and the arginine vasopressin 1a (AVPR1a) gene contribute to a range of social behaviors both in lower vertebrates and in humans. Human promoter-region microsatellite repeat regions (RS1 and RS3) in the AVPR1a gene region have been associated with autism spectrum disorders, prosocial behavior and social cognition. Prepulse inhibition (PPI) of the startle response to auditory stimuli is a largely autonomic response that resonates with social cognition in both animal models and humans. Reduced PPI has been observed in disorders including schizophrenia that are distinguished by deficits in social skills. In the current investigation association was examined between PPI and the AVPR1a RS1 and RS repeat regions and PPI in a group of 113 nonclinical subjects. Using a robust family-based strategy, association was observed between AVPR1a promoter-region repeat length, especially RS3) and PPI (30 ms: global p = 0.04; 60 ms p = 0.006; 120 ms p = 0.008). Notably, longer RS3 alleles were associated with greater levels of prepulse inhibition. Using a short/long classification scheme for the repeat regions, significant association was also observed between all three PPI intervals (30, 60 and 120 ms) and both RS1 and RS3 polymorphisms (PBAT: FBAT-PC2statistic p = 0.047). Tests of within-subject effects (SPSS GLM) showed significant sex × RS3 interactions at 30 ms (p = 0.045) and 60 ms (p = 0.01). Longer alleles, especially in male subjects, are associated with significantly higher PPI response, consistent with a role for the promoter repeat region in partially molding social behavior in both animals and humans. This is the first report in humans demonstrating a role of the AVPR1a gene in contributing to the PPI response to auditory stimuli. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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