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Changing environments reveal innovative genetic variation in children's cortisol responses

By Laurel Raffington, Margherita Malanchini, Andrew D Grotzinger, James W. Madole, Laura E. Engelhardt, Aditi Sabhlok, Cherry Youn, Megan W. Patterson, Kathryn Paige Harden, Elliot M Tucker-Drob

Posted 30 Nov 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/856658

Genetic associations with biopsychosocial phenotypes are often interpreted as evidence that the genome codes for fixed end-states. Instead, a given genotype might regulate a dynamic range of phenotypes in response to environmental change. We collected hair cortisol (n = 1,104), salivary cortisol in reaction to an in-laboratory stressor (n = 537), and diurnal salivary cortisol (n = 488) from twins aged 8-15 years in the Texas Twin Project. Baseline genetic variation in both salivary and hair cortisol was not simply magnified after stressor exposure or after waking. Rather, novel genetic influences on cortisol arose over time. Thus, environmental change can reveal genetic variation that would not otherwise be observed in static cortisol levels. These findings are in line with the notion that the genome regulates individuals' reactions to the environment that differ across environments.

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