Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 471–483 | Cite as

The BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism Interacts with Maternal Parenting Influencing Adolescent Depressive Symptoms: Evidence of Differential Susceptibility Model

  • Leilei Zhang
  • Zhi Li
  • Jie Chen
  • Xinying Li
  • Jianxin Zhang
  • Jay Belsky
Empirical Research


Although depressive symptoms are common during adolescence, little research has examined gene–environment interaction on youth depression. This study chose the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene, tested the interaction between a functional polymorphism resulting amino acid substitution of valine (Val) to methionine (Met) in the proBDNF protein at codon 66 (Val66Met), and maternal parenting on youth depressive symptoms in a sample of 780 community adolescents of Chinese Han ethnicity (aged 11–17, M = 13.6, 51.3 % females). Participants reported their depressive symptoms and perceived maternal parenting. Results indicated the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism significantly moderated the influence of maternal warmth-reasoning, but not harshness-hostility, on youth depressive symptoms. Confirmatory model evaluation indicated that the interaction effect involving warmth-reasoning conformed to the differential-susceptibility rather than diathesis-stress model of person-X-environment interaction. Thus, Val carriers experienced less depressive symptoms than Met homozygotes when mothering was more positive but more symptoms when mothering was less positive. The findings provided evidence in support of the differential susceptibility hypothesis of youth depressive symptoms and shed light on the importance of examining the gene–environment interaction from a developmental perspective.


Adolescent depressive symptoms BDNF Val66Met polymorphism Differential susceptibility Gene–environment interaction Maternal parenting 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31300841). This research was also supported by Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the BeTwiSt of Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Author contributions

LZ performed the statistical analyses; ZL participated in data analyses, and are involved in drafting the manuscript; JC participated in interpretation of the data, and are involved in drafting and revising the manuscript; XL and JZ participated in the design and coordination of the project; Jay Belsky participated in conceiving the study, interpretation of the data and helped to draft the manuscript. LZ, ZL, and JC contributed equally to this work. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leilei Zhang
    • 1
  • Zhi Li
    • 2
  • Jie Chen
    • 1
  • Xinying Li
    • 1
  • Jianxin Zhang
    • 1
  • Jay Belsky
    • 2
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of PsychologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Human EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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