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Potentiation of serotonergic transmission increases cognitive flexibility, but can in other circumstances increase sensitivity to stressful environmental cues. The personality trait Openness to Experience reflects and is also associated with an increased risk for mood disorders. We hypothesized that the personality trait has an association with a biomarker of serotonergic transmission, the plasma membrane serotonin transporter (5-HTT). In 50 healthy volunteers, we tested for correlations between scores on the NEO-PI-R scale Openness to Experience and its subscales, and cerebral binding of the 5-HTT selective PET radioligand [11C]DASB. Subjects were genotyped for the 5-HTT long/short polymorphism, and for a single nucleotide polymorphism in the long allele, designated LA/LG. Midbrain [11C]DASB binding correlated negatively with scores for Openness to Experience and its two subscales, Openness to Actions and Openness to Values. The latter subscore was negatively correlated with [11C]DASB binding in all brain regions in which [11C]DASB binding was quantified. Genetic analysis showed that homozygote LA carriers had significantly higher [11C]DASB binding in the caudate nucleus, but no significant differences in openness scores. Thus, high scores in personality facets indicative of cognitive flexibility and openness to change are associated with lower [11C]DASB binding. Lower abundance of 5-HTT sites may result in potentiation of serotonergic signaling, which occurs during treatment with SSRIs. We speculate that the set-point of serotonergic signaling in an individual represents a trade-off between flexibility and vulnerability when exposed to environmental stress.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





280 - 285


Adult, Brain, Extraversion (Psychology), Female, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Personality, Positron-Emission Tomography, Self Disclosure, Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins, Statistics as Topic, Tissue Distribution