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The genetics of sports behaviour : the role of the DRD4 gene in sensation seeking in skiers Thomson, Cynthia J


Previous research has shown a large genetic influence over personality traits, especially sensation seeking. One gene thought to influence this behavioural trait is the dopamine-4-receptor gene (DRD4), in which variants have been associated with sensation seeking and novelty seeking in some, but not all studies. The inconsistencies between studies may be due to heterogeneity in both the behaviours and the populations being assessed. Some studies included only males and few studies have a priori analyzed males and females separately. SS has been associated with high-risk sports, including skiing; however, this is the first study to address the possibility that genetics may play a role in individuals’ inclination towards SS in sport. Using the Contextual Sensation Seeking Questionnaire for Skiing (CSSQ-S), developed and validated for this study, and the Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire (ZKPQ), levels of SS in males and females were analyzed in association with the alleles of a polymorphism in the dopamine-4-receptor, -521 C/T (a C or a T at position -521). Behavioural analysis of skiers (N = 200) revealed a significant correlation (r²= .506, p < .001) between skier behaviour (CSSQ-S) and skier personality score (ZKPQ) for sensation seeking. Genotype analysis (N = 74) revealed allele frequencies of .58 C and .42 T and an over-representation of the C allele was found in the population of skiers compared with a general Caucasian population (p < .01). In females, a significant association was found between the homozygous C/C genotype and high levels of contextual skiing SS behaviour (N = 36, p = .006, η² = .2), along with a non-significant trend between ZKPQ impulsive SS scores and the alleles of -521 C/T (p = .086). No association, however, was found in males (N=38, p ZKPQ = .473, p CSSQ-S = .345). This study supports the hypothesis that alleles of the DRD4 -521 C/T polymorphism are associated with context-specific SS behaviours, however only in females. Social pressures may differentially influence male and female sensation-seeking behaviour which may explain the lack of association in males, though this hypothesis requires further investigation.

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