The interaction between child maltreatment, adult stressful life events and the 5-HTTLPR in major depression

Power, Robert A.; Lecky-Thompson, Lucy; Fisher, Helen L.; Cohen-Woods, Sarah; Hosang, Georgina M.; Uher, Rudolf; Powell-Smith, Georgia; Keers, Robert; Tropeano, Maria; Korszun, Ania; Jones, Lisa; Jones, Ian; Owen, Michael J.; Craddock, Nick and Craig, Ian. 2013. The interaction between child maltreatment, adult stressful life events and the 5-HTTLPR in major depression. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47(8), pp. 1032-1035. ISSN 0022-3956 [Article]

No full text available

Abstract or Description

Both childhood maltreatment and adult stressful life events are established risk factors for the onset of depression in adulthood. However, the interaction between them can be viewed through two conflicting frameworks. Under a mismatch hypothesis stressful childhoods allow ‘adaptive programming’ for a stressful adulthood and so can be protective. Only when childhood and adulthood do not match is there a risk of behavioural problems. Alternatively, under the cumulative stress hypothesis we expect increased risk with each additional stressor. It has also been suggested that an individual's genetic background may determine the extent they undergo adaptive programming, and so which of these two hypotheses is relevant. In this study we test for an interaction between exposure to childhood maltreatment and adult stressful life events in a retrospective sample of 455 individuals, using major depression as the outcome. We also test whether this interaction differs by genotype at the 5-HTTLPR, a candidate for an individual's plasticity to adaptive programming.

Early maltreatment and stressful life events in adulthood interacted to produce increased risk for depression over each individually (p = 0.055). This supports the cumulative stress hypothesis over the mismatch hypothesis, at least with respect to severe environmental risk factors. This effect was not altered by 5-HTTLPR allele, suggesting there was no difference by genotype in adaptive programming to these events. We suggest that the apparent additional vulnerability to stressful events of those who have experienced maltreatment has clinical relevance, highlighting the importance of providing support beyond the immediate aftermath of maltreatment into adulthood.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


mismatch hypothesis; stressful life events; child maltreatment; major depression; gene–environment interaction; 5-HTTLPR

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



24 April 2013Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

23 Apr 2014 12:02

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 15:55

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


Edit Record Edit Record (login required)