The purpose of this R21 is to: (1) to identify specific emotion-related genotypes that predispose mothers to have more negative physiological, emotional and behavioral responses to infant distress;and (2) to examine the extent to which specific emotion-related genotypes make mothers and infants more or less susceptible to the effect of positive and negative environmental experiences. Specifically, we will examine the extent to which genes moderate the effect of: (a) early trauma on mothers'physiological, emotional and behavioral responses to infant distress;and (b) maternal sensitivity to distress on infants'early regulatory capacity at the emotional, behavioral, and physiological levels. This work is relevant to the mental health of children because maternal sensitivity to distress is a predictor of positive child outcomes, but we know little about the biological or psychological processes that promote sensitive behavior in response to infant crying. Identifying the processes that influence how mothers respond to their distressed infants and the origins of these processes will inform the development of screening tools to identify mothers at risk for parenting difficulties and the design of individually tailored intervention efforts to foster sensiive maternal behavior and positive social emotional functioning early in life. DNA samples will be collected from a pre-existing sample of 254 primiparous mothers (126 European American, 128 African American) and their infants in our laboratory or their home when infants are 2 to 3 years old. Mother and infant genotypes linked with emotional, attention, and social processes will be assessed (i.e., dopamine receptors D1, D2 and D4, dopamine transporter DAT-1, catechol-O- methyltransferase -COMT, serotonin transporter- 5-HTTPR, and oxytocin receptor-OXTR). During this visit, mothers will report on the extent to which they experienced trauma and care giving transitions during their childhood and the extent to which their infant experienced trauma and care giving transitions during each of the first 2 years. Prior relevant measures from this sample include mothers self-reports of childhood care giving experiences on questionnaires and the Adult Attachment Interview;all administered prenatally. Measures of mothers'physiological (skin conductance and vagal suppression), affective, and behavioral responses to infant distress were assessed at 6 months, 1 year and 2 years postpartum. Infant emotion regulation behaviors and vagal regulation were assessed during emotion-eliciting tasks in the laboratory at 6 months, 1 year and 2 years. At 1 and 2 years, mothers reported on infant behavior problems using the B-ITSEA;and infant behavioral regulation was observed during a compliance task at 2 years. Results will extend our knowledge of the biological processes that influence maternal sensitivity in emotionally arousing settings, a critical context for children's emotional development and help us determine which mothers and infants are most susceptible to early care giving influences.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research seeks to identify molecular genetic factors that: (1) predict mothers physiological, affective, and behavioral responses to infant crying;and (2) modulate the effect of positive and negative early care giving experiences on sensitive maternal behavior and on infant emotion regulation. Results will inform the development of early intervention strategies and procedures to identify families in need of such services.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of North Carolina Greensboro
Other Health Professions
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Qu, Jin; Leerkes, Esther M (2018) Patterns of RSA and observed distress during the still-face paradigm predict later attachment, compliance and behavior problems: A person-centered approach. Dev Psychobiol 60:707-721
Su, Jinni; Leerkes, Esther M; Augustine, Mairin E (2018) DRD4 interacts with adverse life events in predicting maternal sensitivity via emotion regulation. J Fam Psychol 32:783-792
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