Intervening to Reduce Risk

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Science  05 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5932, pp. 1242-1243
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1242c

There have been many discussions of how genes and environment might interact in the context of human behavior. Brody et al. have studied the effects of a randomized behavioral intervention on adolescents who have a genetic polymorphism associated with the initiation of risky behavior. Roughly 600 11-year-olds were randomly assigned to the Strong African American Families (SAAF) program or to a control group. The SAAF group (and their caregivers, usually mothers) participated in separate and joint training sessions on parenting practices, stress management, dealing with racism, setting goals, and norms for the use of alcohol and other substances. Sessions occurred over the course of 1 year, and the initiation of risky behaviors was assessed at the beginning of the program and for the next 2.5 years. Two years later, saliva samples were collected to look for a polymorphism in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter. Possession of a short form of the allele has been associated previously with impulsivity, substance abuse, and early sexual activity. In the control group, adolescents with the short allele were twice as likely to have engaged in risky behaviors as those assigned to the SAAF group or those with the long allele in either group. Only one genetic polymorphism was examined, and the results need to be confirmed in a variety of populations; however, this provides further evidence of the value of this intervention and the mutability of the effects of genetic predisposition.

Child Devel. 80, 645 (2009).

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