FRIDAY, March 9, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that a variation in their genes could make some women more angry and hostile, potentially leading to medical problems such as heart disease.
The research, which looks at genes that affect the brain, is still in its early stages. But the study's lead author said it could help scientists get a better handle on how genetics, emotions and health are connected for both women and men.
"We are attempting to put together a thousand-piece puzzle regarding heart diseases," said Indrani Halder, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh. "This study identifies one component of this puzzle -- that higher anger and aggression could partly be genetic."
In the study, Halder and colleagues tracked 550 women of European descent, looking for connections between a gene connected to serotonin levels in the brain and their levels of hostility and anger.
Halder is scheduled to report her findings Friday at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, in Budapest, Hungary.
The researchers found that the angriest women were most likely to have variations in a gene that affects serotonin receptors on brain cells. "In essence, this gene makes an important protein that helps nerve cells communicate," Halder said.
Other studies have suggested that human emotions are affected by genes that control other aspects of the brain's processing of serotonin, noted Dr. James Grisolia, a neurologist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.
"Serotonin function within the brain has many effects, both in men and women," Grisolia said. "Serotonin plays a key role in sleep, emotional state and physical well-being. Men and women walk into my office on a daily basis with anxiety, depression or physical complaints such as insomnia, dizziness, or memory loss that respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs], Prozac being the most famous and Lexapro the most currently prescribed, that functionally increase serotonin activity."
What about a genetic treatment -- maybe even a pill -- that would make women (and men) less angry and hostile?
"As with any other genetic study, our results need to be replicated in other larger samples to make definitive conclusions," Halder said. "The same gene may also be important for understanding anger and aggression in men. But men have only one X chromosome -- where this gene is located -- compared to women, who have two X chromosomes."
Edward C. Suarez, an associate research professor at the Duke University Health System, said the research suggests that "elevated levels of hostility and aggression are associated with genetic variations that may play in a role in the development of some chronic medical conditions."
Overall, "our understanding of the role genes play in behavior and personality is in the early stages of research, and the true picture is likely to reflect a complicated network comprised of both genetic and environmental influences, along with gender, age and other factors," Suarez added. "The results of this study are a step toward unraveling these associations. [But] it is likely that no one gene determines how we behave or determines our personality."
Learn more about anger and genes from TheTech.org.