Decoding The MAO-A Gene: What It Means For Your Well-being

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Decoding The MAO-A Gene: What It Means For Your Health

Date of Content: May 21, 2024
Written by: Avanthika Nityanand
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD

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Disclaimer: This article does not include all possible risk variants for the MAO-A gene and is for informational purposes only. This article is not intended for diagnosis. Please talk to a healthcare professional if you have symptoms associated with these variants.

What is The MAO-A Gene?

The MAO-A gene, on the X chromosome (Xp11.3), encodes the enzyme monoamine oxidase A, which is essential for breaking down certain neurotransmitters in the brain. The monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), plays a crucial role in regulating the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are vital for mood regulation, arousal, and emotional responses.

Common Polymorphisms

The MAO-A R297R synonymous polymorphism is caused by a specific single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) gene, where the nucleotide at position 941 in the DNA sequence can vary. This SNP is also known by its reference SNP ID, rs6323 G>T.

Impact on Health and Behavior:

  • Aggression and Behavioral Traits: Variations in the MAO-A gene, including the R297R polymorphism, have been studied for their role in aggressive behavior and other psychiatric conditions. Research suggests that specific variants of the MAO-A gene can influence susceptibility to stress and aggression.
  • MAO-A Activity: The R297R  and other polymorphisms are associated with variations in the MAO-A enzyme activity. Some studies indicate that individuals with certain variants may have higher or lower MAO-A activity, which can affect the breakdown of neurotransmitters and subsequently influence mood and behavior.

More on this below.

Which Aspects of Your Health Is Influenced by MAO-A Gene?

Mood Regulation

The MAO-A enzyme breaks down neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are critical for mood regulation. Abnormal activity of MAO-A can lead to imbalances in these neurotransmitters, contributing to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Individuals with specific variants of the MAO-A gene may be more prone to experiencing these conditions.

A 2009 study investigated how genetic polymorphisms in different genes influenced placebo responsiveness in major depressive disorder. Placebo (a treatment with no active ingredient) response varies greatly between individuals. Researchers feel this response works through brain pathways related to rewards controlled by chemicals called monoamines (like serotonin and dopamine). Since genetics strongly influences these chemicals’ activity in the brain, researchers hypothesized that common genetic variations (polymorphisms) that affect the activity of these chemicals would be related to how much a person improves when treated with a placebo for major depressive disorder. Findings revealed that subjects with MAO-A polymorphisms coding for the higher activity form of the enzyme (rs 6323 genotype GT or GG) exhibited a significantly lower placebo response than those with other genotypes.

Behavioral Control

MAO-A activity influences behaviors related to impulse control and aggression. Genetic variations in the MAO-A gene, sometimes called the “warrior gene,” have been associated with increased aggression and antisocial behavior, especially under stressful conditions. These behavioral tendencies can impact social interactions and overall mental health.

In a 2008 study combining psychology and behavioral economics, researchers found that aggression increased in intensity and frequency as provocation levels rose, particularly among individuals with the low-activity MAOA (MAOA-L) variant. Participants punished those they believed had taken money from them by administering varying amounts of spicy sauce. Results showed that the MAOA genotype significantly affected aggressive behavior, especially under high provocation.

Stress Response

The MAO-A gene plays a role in how the body responds to stress. Variants of the MAO-A gene can affect the breakdown of neurotransmitters involved in the stress response, potentially leading to heightened stress sensitivity and altered coping mechanisms. It can influence susceptibility to stress-related disorders.

A 2018 study investigated the influence of stressful life events on aggression among Chinese adolescents in the context of gene polymorphisms. The two genes considered were COMT and MAO-A. Results showed that adolescents carrying the lower-activity-causing MAOA T-allele of the T941G polymorphism showed more aggression with increased interpersonal problems. Additionally, adolescents with the lower activity genotype of the COMT Ala22/72Ser polymorphism and MAOA  T941G T-allele exhibited more aggression under high academic pressure.

Cognitive Function

The MAO-A gene indirectly affects cognitive function by regulating the levels of neurotransmitters that are important for cognitive processes, including attention, memory, and learning. Imbalances in neurotransmitter levels due to altered MAO-A activity can impair cognitive abilities and contribute to neurological conditions.

A 2018 study investigated the association between MAOA gene polymorphisms and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in Korean children. ADHD, a common neurodevelopmental disorder, is thought to be linked to dopaminergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic pathways, with MAOA playing a crucial role in neurotransmitter catabolism. Results showed significant associations between the rs6323 G>T polymorphism and ADHD in girls, with the TT genotype acting as a protective factor.

Also read: A Walkthrough of the LifeDNA Personality and Cognition Report

Response to Medications

Individuals with different MAO-A gene variants may respond differently to certain medications, especially those affecting neurotransmitter levels, such as antidepressants (including MAO inhibitors). Understanding one’s MAO-A gene status can help personalize treatment for mental health conditions.

Get your LifeDNA Methylation Genes report to understand your MAO-A gene polymorphisms in more detail. 

Vitamin B2 and MAO-A Enzyme

Vitamin B2, or riboflavin, is a water-soluble vitamin that is vital for many cellular processes. It functions mainly as a precursor to the coenzymes flavin mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). FMN and FAD are critical for the activity of various flavoproteins. Flavoproteins are a group of proteins that contain a flavin molecule and are mainly involved in reactions related to energy production and detox. These flavoproteins play a significant role in redox reactions. Redox reactions are highly specialized reactions that help animals, including humans, break down complex compounds into usable energy (respiration).

Riboflavin, as a precursor to FMN and FAD, indirectly influences the activity of MAO-A. MAO-A is also a flavoprotein. Like other flavoproteins, it requires FAD as a cofactor for its enzymatic activity. Thus, adequate levels of riboflavin are essential for the optimal functioning of MAO-A.

  • Riboflavin ensures the availability of FAD, which is necessary for the catalytic activity of MAO-A.

Some studies suggest that riboflavin might influence the expression of genes involved in redox regulation, potentially affecting MAO-A activity.

Managing Implications of MAO-A Gene Polymorphisms

Regular Monitoring

Regular psychiatric evaluations and monitoring are crucial for managing symptoms effectively. These check-ups allow healthcare providers to adjust treatment plans as needed, ensuring that the therapeutic approach remains effective and responsive to changes in the individual’s condition.

Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is effective in managing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and aggression by helping individuals change negative thought patterns. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be beneficial for those with mood regulation issues and impulsive behavior. Family therapy can also provide significant support by improving family dynamics and fostering a supportive environment.

Stress Management

Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation exercises can significantly reduce stress and improve emotional regulation. These practices help individuals manage their responses to stressors, which can mitigate the impact of MAO-A gene variations on behavior and mood.

Diet

Maintaining a balanced diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins supports overall brain health. A healthy diet can positively influence neurotransmitter function and mood stability.

Exercise

Regular physical activity is an excellent way to manage stress, improve mood, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise boosts the production of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that enhance mood and overall mental health.

Sleep Hygiene

Ensuring adequate and regular sleep is vital for maintaining mood and mental health. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a restful sleep environment can help manage the symptoms associated with MAO-A gene variations.

Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling provides valuable information about the implications of MAO-A gene variations. Counselors can support individuals and families in understanding these variations and making informed decisions about management and treatment options.

Support Groups

Joining support groups can provide a sense of community and shared experience for individuals with MAO-A gene variations. These groups offer emotional support and practical advice from others facing similar challenges, which can be incredibly beneficial.

Regular Check-ups

Scheduling consistent follow-up appointments with healthcare providers ensures regular monitoring of the symptoms and adjusting the treatment plans as necessary. Regular check-ups also help promptly address changes in the individual’s condition and maintain effective management strategies.

Medication

Antidepressants such as SSRIs and SNRIs can help manage mood disorders linked to MAO-A variations by balancing neurotransmitter levels. MAO inhibitors (MAOIs) might be prescribed in some cases, though they require careful dietary management due to potential side effects. Mood stabilizers can also be beneficial for those experiencing mood swings and aggression, helping to maintain emotional stability.

References

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