University of Oulu

Dobewall H, Saarinen A, Lyytikäinen L-P, Keltikangas-Järvinen L, Lehtimäki T and Hintsanen M (2021) Functional Polymorphisms in Oxytocin and Dopamine Pathway Genes and the Development of Dispositional Compassion Over Time: The Young Finns Study. Front. Psychol. 12:576346. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.576346

Functional polymorphisms in oxytocin and dopamine pathway genes and the development of dispositional compassion over time : the Young Finns Study

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Author: Dobewall, Henrik1,2,3; Saarinen, Aino1,2; Lyytikäinen, Leo-Pekka3;
Organizations: 1Research Unit of Psychology, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
3Fimlab Laboratories, and Finnish Cardiovascular Research Center - Tampere, Department of Clinical Chemistry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Frontiers Media, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-06-11


Background: We define compassion as an enduring disposition that centers upon empathetic concern for another person’s suffering and the motivation to act to alleviate it. The contribution of specific candidate genes to the development of dispositional compassion for others is currently unknown. We examine candidate genes in the oxytocin and dopamine signaling pathways.

Methods: In a 32-year follow-up of the Young Finns Study (N = 2,130, 44.0% men), we examined with multiple indicators latent growth curve modeling the molecular genetic underpinnings of dispositional compassion for others across the life span. We selected five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) whose functions are known in humans: rs2268498 (OXTR), rs3796863 (CD38) (related to lower oxytocin levels), rs1800497 (ANKK1/DRD2), rs4680 (COMT), and rs1611115 (DBH) (related to higher dopamine levels). Compassion was measured with Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory on three repeated observations spanning 15 years (1997–2012). Differences between gender were tested.

Results: We did not find an effect of the five SNPs in oxytocin and dopamine pathway genes on the initial levels of dispositional compassion for others. Individuals who carry one or two copies of the T-allele of DBH rs1611115, however, tend to increase faster in compassion over time than those homozygotes for the C-allele, b = 0.063 (SE = 0.027; p = 0.018). This effect was largely driven by male participants, 0.206 (SE = 0.046; p < 0.001), and was not significant in female participants when analyzed separately.

Conclusions: Men who are known to have, on average, lower compassion than women seem to reduce this difference over time if they carry the T-allele of DBH rs1611115. The direction of the association indicates that dopamine signaling activity rather than overall dopamine levels might drive the development of compassion.

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Series: Frontiers in psychology
ISSN: 1664-1078
ISSN-E: 1664-1078
ISSN-L: 1664-1078
Volume: 12
Article number: 576346
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.576346
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 515 Psychology
3142 Public health care science, environmental and occupational health
Funding: This study was supported financially by the Academy of Finland (MH, grant number 308676). The Young Finns Study has been financially supported by the Academy of Finland: grants 286284, 134309 (Eye), 126925, 121584, 124282, 129378 (Salve), 117787 (Gendi), 41071 (Skidi), and 322098; the Social Insurance Institution of Finland; Competitive State Research Financing of the Expert Responsibility area of Kuopio, Tampere and Turku University Hospitals (grant X51001); Juho Vainio Foundation; Paavo Nurmi Foundation; Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research; Finnish Cultural Foundation; The Sigrid Juselius Foundation; Tampere Tuberculosis Foundation; Emil Aaltonen Foundation; Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation; Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation (TL); Diabetes Research Foundation of Finnish Diabetes Association; and EU Horizon 2020 (grant 755320 for TAXINOMISIS and grant 848146 for AITION); and European Research Council (grant 742927 for MULTIEPIGEN project); Tampere University Hospital Supporting Foundation.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 308676
Detailed Information: 308676 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
322098 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2021 Dobewall, Saarinen, Lyytikäinen, Keltikangas-Järvinen, Lehtimäki and Hintsanen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.