Neuroethics

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 287–306 | Cite as

The Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA) Genetic Predisposition to Impulsive Violence: Is It Relevant to Criminal Trials?

Original Paper

Abstract

In Italy, a judge reduced the sentence of a defendant by 1 year in response to evidence for a genetic predisposition to violence. The best characterized of these genetic differences, those in the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), were cited as especially relevant. Several months previously in the USA, MAOA data contributed to a jury reducing charges from 1st degree murder (a capital offence) to voluntary manslaughter. Is there a rational basis for this type of use of MAOA evidence in criminal court? This paper will review in context recent work on the MAOA gene–environment interaction in predisposing individuals to violence and address the relevance of such findings to murder trials. Interestingly, the MAOA genetic variants impact future violence and aggression only when combined with the adverse environmental stimuli of childhood maltreatment. Thus nature and nurture interact to determine the individual’s risk. Based on current evidence, I argue there is a weak case for mitigation. But should future experiments confirm the hypothesis that individual differences in impulse control and response to provocation found in MAOA-L men (without abuse) are significantly magnified when combined with childhood maltreatment, the case could turn into a stronger one.

Keywords

Violence Genetic predisposition MAOA Monoamine Oxidase A Criminal responsibility Neuroethics Gene × environment interaction 

References

  1. 1.
    Forzano, F., P. Borry, A. Cambon-Thomsen, S.V. Hodgson, A. Tibben, P. De Vries, C. Van El, and M. Cornel. 2010. Italian appeal court: A genetic predisposition to commit murder. European Journal of Human Genetics 18(5): 519–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ahuja, A. The get out of jail free gene. The Sunday Times (UK) 2009, (November 17).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Feresin, E. 2009. Lighter sentence for murderer with ‘bad genes’. Nature 10(1038)/news.2009.1050.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bayout v. Francesco. 2009, RGAssise App. 6/2008 RGNR 1685/2007, RG. sent 5, dd 18 settembre 2009.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hagerty, B. 2010. Can your genes make you murder? National Public Radio (July 1): [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128043329]
  6. 6.
    Waldroup Guilty, will not face death penalty. Polk News 2009 (March 25): [http://www.polknewsonline.com/2009/03/25/Top_News/Waldroup_guilty,_will_not_face_death_penalty/4158.html]
  7. 7.
  8. 8.
    Alia-Klein, N., R.Z. Goldstein, D. Tomasi, P.A. Woicik, S.J. Moeller, B. Williams, I.W. Craig, F. Telang, A. Biegon, G.J. Wang, J.S. Fowler, and N.D. Volkow. 2009. Neural mechanisms of anger regulation as a function of genetic risk for violence. Emotion 9(3): 385–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Lombroso, C., M. Gibson, and N.H. Rafter. 2006. Criminal man. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Greenspan, R.J. 2008. The origins of behavioral genetics. Current Biology 18(5): R192–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Weiss, S.F. 2006. Human genetics and politics as mutually beneficial resources: The case of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics during the Third Reich. Journal of the History of Biology 39(1): 41–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    McGue, M. 2010. The end of behavioral genetics? Behavior Genetics 40(3): 284–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hirschhorn, K. 2008. A short history of the American Society of Human Genetics. American Journal of Human Genetics 83(3): 307–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Centerwall, S.A., and W.R. Centerwall. 2000. The discovery of phenylketonuria: The story of a young couple, two retarded children, and a scientist. Pediatrics 105(1 Pt 1): 89–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Arnett, D.K., A.E. Baird, R.A. Barkley, C.T. Basson, E. Boerwinkle, S.K. Ganesh, D.M. Herrington, Y. Hong, C. Jaquish, D.A. McDermott, C.J. O’Donnell, and American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, American Heart Association Stroke Council, Functional Genomics and Translational Biology Interdisciplinary Working Group. 2007. Relevance of genetics and genomics for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, the Stroke Council, and the Functional Genomics and Translational Biology Interdisciplinary Working Group. Circulation 115(22): 2878–2901.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Brown, D., A. Butchart, A. Harvey, K. Bartolomeos, D. Meddings, L. Sminkey. 2007. World Health Organization: Third Milestones of a Global Campaign for Violence Prevention Report 2007: scaling up.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Siever, L.J. 2008. Neurobiology of aggression and violence. The American Journal of Psychiatry 165(4): 429–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Brunner, H., M. Nelen, X. Breakefield, H. Ropers, and B. van Oost. 1993. Abnormal behavior associated with a point mutation in the structural gene for monoamine oxidase A. Science 262(5133): 578–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Buckholtz, J.W., and A. Meyer-Lindenberg. 2008. MAOA and the neurogenetic architecture of human aggression. Trends in Neurosciences 31(3): 120–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Kim-Cohen, J., A. Caspi, A. Taylor, B. Williams, R. Newcombe, I.W. Craig, and T.E. Moffitt. 2006. MAOA, maltreatment, and gene–environment interaction predicting children’s mental health: New evidence and a meta-analysis. Molecular Psychiatry 11(10): 903–913.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Caspi, A., J. McCray, T.E. Moffitt, J. Mill, J. Martin, I.W. Craig, A. Taylor, and R. Poulton. 2002. Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science 297(5582): 851–854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Willeit, M., and N. Praschak-Rieder. 2010. Imaging the effects of genetic polymorphisms on radioligand binding in the living human brain: A review on genetic neuroreceptor imaging of monoaminergic systems in psychiatry. Neuroimage 53(3): 878–892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Taylor, A., and J. Kim-Cohen. 2007. Meta-analysis of gene–environment interactions in developmental psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology 19(4): 1029–1037.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Tremblay, R.E., and M. Szyf. 2010. Developmental origins of chronic physical aggression and epigenetics. Epigenomics 2(4): 495–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Weder, N., B.Z. Yang, H. Douglas-Palumberi, J. Massey, J.H. Krystal, J. Gelernter, and J. Kaufman. 2009. MAOA genotype, maltreatment, and aggressive behavior: The changing impact of genotype at varying levels of trauma. Biological Psychiatry 65(5): 417–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Risch, N., R. Herrell, T. Lehner, K. Liang, L. Eaves, J. Hoh, A. Griem, M. Kovacs, J. Ott, and K.R. Merikangas. 2009. Interaction between the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR), stressful life events, and risk of depression: A meta-analysis. JAMA 301(23): 2462–2471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Sjöberg, R.L., F. Ducci, C.S. Barr, T.K. Newman, L. Dell’Osso, M. Virkkunen, and D. Goldman. 2008. A non-additive interaction of a functional MAO-A VNTR and testosterone predicts antisocial behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology 33(2): 425–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Alia-Klein, N., R.Z. Goldstein, A. Kriplani, J. Logan, D. Tomasi, B. Williams, F. Telang, E. Shumay, A. Biegon, I.W. Craig, F. Henn, G.J. Wang, N.D. Volkow, and J.S. Fowler. 2008. Brain monoamine oxidase A activity predicts trait aggression. The Journal of Neuroscience 28(19): 5099–5104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Buckholtz, J.W., J.H. Callicott, B. Kolachana, A.R. Hariri, T.E. Goldberg, M. Genderson, M.F. Egan, V.S. Mattay, D.R. Weinberger, and A. Meyer-Lindenberg. 2008. Genetic variation in MAOA modulates ventromedial prefrontal circuitry mediating individual differences in human personality. Molecular Psychiatry 13(3): 313–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Tsiouris, J.A. 2010. Pharmacotherapy for aggressive behaviours in persons with intellectual disabilities: Treatment or mistreatment? Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 54(1): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Eisenberger, N.I., B.M. Way, S.E. Taylor, W.T. Welch, and M.D. Lieberman. 2007. Understanding genetic risk for aggression: Clues from the brain’s response to social exclusion. Biological Psychiatry 61(9): 1100–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    McDermott, R., D. Tingley, J. Cowden, G. Frazzetto, and D.D.P. Johnson. 2009. Monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) predicts behavioral aggression following provocation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106(7): 2118–2123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Mobley v. State. (1995) 455S.E.2d 61. Ga. Sup. Ct.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Bernet, W., C.L. Vnencak-Jones, N. Farahany, and S.A. Montgomery. 2007. Bad nature, bad nurture, and testimony regarding MAOA and SLC6A4 genotyping at murder trials. Journal of Forensic Sciences 52(6): 1362–1371.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Pieri, E., and M. Levitt. 2008. Risky individuals and the politics of genetic research into aggressiveness and violence. Bioethics 22(9): 509–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Padfield, N. 2008. Criminal Law, 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Eastman, N., and C. Campbell. 2006. Science and society: Neuroscience and legal determination of criminal responsibility. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience 7(4): 311–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Camplin. (1978) AC 705, (1978) 2 WLR 679, 67 Cr App Rep 14, (1978) 2 All ER 168, HLGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Newell. (1980) 71 Cr App Rep 331, (1980) Cr LR 576.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Beecher-Monas, E., and E. Garcia-Rill. 2006. Genetic predictions of future dangerousness: Is there a blueprint for violence? Law and Contemporary Problems 69(1–2): 301–342.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Baumeister, R.F., K.D. Vohs, and D.M. Tice. 2007. The strength model of self-control. Current Directions in Psychological Science 16(6): 351–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Burns, J.M., and R.H. Swerdlow. 2003. Right orbitofrontal tumor with pedophilia symptom and constructional apraxia sign. Archives of Neurology 60(3): 437–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Luc Thiet Thuan v. R. (1997) AC 131, (1996) 2 All ER 1033, (1996) 3 WLR 45, (1996) 2 Cr App Rep 178, (1996) Crim LR 820, PC.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Campbell. (1997) 1 Cr App Rep 1999, (1997) Crim LR 227, CA.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Smith (Morgan James). (1999) QB 1079, affd (2001) 1AC 146, (2000) 4 All ER 289, (2000) 3 WLR 654, (2001) 1 Cr App Rep 31, (2000) Crim LR 1004, HL.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Rowland. (2003) EWCA Crim 3636, 148 Sol Jo LB 26, (2003) All ER (D) 237 (Dec).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Weller. (2003) EWCA Crim 815, (2004) 1 Cr App Rep 1, (2003) Crim LR 724.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    A-G for Jersey v Holley. (2005) UKPC 23; (2005) Crim LR 966.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    James; Karimi. (2006) EWCA Crim 14.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Crews, F., J. He, and C. Hodge. 2007. Adolescent cortical development: A critical period of vulnerability for addiction. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 86(2): 189–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Yerkes, R. Robert M. Yerkes Papers. Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Lippmann, W. 1922. Public Opinion. New York: Free.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Parens, E. 2004. Genetic differences and human identities: On why talking about behavioral genetics is important and difficult. Hastings Center Report 34(1 SUPPL.).Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Maden, T., and P. Tyrer. 2003. Dangerous and severe personality disorders: A new personality concept from the United Kingdom. Journal of Personality Disorders 17(6): 489–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Corbett, K., and T. Westwood. 2005. ‘Dangerous and severe personality disorder’: A psychiatric manifestation of the risk society. Critical Public Health 15(2): 121–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Shumay, E., and J.S. Fowler. 2010. Identification and characterization of putative methylation targets in the MAOA locus using bioinformatic approaches. Epigenetics 5(4): 325–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Berlin, I., C. Heilbronner, S. Georgieu, C. Meier, J.M. Launay, and O. Spreux-Varoquaux. 2009. Reduced monoamine oxidase A activity in pregnant smokers and in their newborns. Biological Psychiatry 66(8): 728–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Wright, S., A. Day, and K. Howells. 2009. Mindfulness and the treatment of anger problems. Aggression and Violent Behavior 14(5): 396–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Hibbeln, J.R., T.A. Ferguson, and T.L. Blasbalg. 2006. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in neurodevelopment, aggression and autonomic dysregulation: Opportunities for intervention. International Review of Psychiatry 18(2): 107–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 60.
    Lea, R.A., G. Chambers. Monoamine oxidase, addiction, and the “warrior” gene hypothesis. Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association. 2007, 120(1250): U2441.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Merriman, T., V. Cameron. Risk-taking: Behind the warrior gene story. Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association. 2007, 120(1250): U2440.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Way, B.M., and M.D. Lieberman. 2010. Is there a genetic contribution to cultural differences? Collectivism, individualism and genetic markers of social sensitivity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 5(2–3): 203–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Ethox Centre, Division of Public Health and Primary Health CareUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Oxford Centre for NeuroethicsUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations