The gene-immune-behavioral pathway: Gamma-interferon (IFN-γ) simultaneously coordinates susceptibility to infectious disease and harm avoidance behaviors.
Cytokine gene variants are known to influence both infectious disease susceptibility and harm-avoidant behaviors, suggesting that these risk variants may be pleiotropically linked to instinctual disease-avoidant traits. The gamma-interferon (IFNG) +874 T>A polymorphism (rs2430561) is an ideal candidate gene variant for immune-behavioral studies. It is a functional SNP, regulating IFNG mRNA expression; it is known to modulate serotonergic activity and is therefore capable of modifying behavior; and it has previously been associated with increased susceptibility to malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy and Chagas disease. We hypothesized that the infectious disease-high-risk IFNG +874 A-allele would be associated with four personality traits previously reported as behavioral defenses against infection: Harm Avoidance (HA), Extraversion (E), Exploratory Excitability (Exp E), and Openness to Experience (O). We tested this hypothesis in a sample of 168 healthy university students from Southern California genotyped for IFNG +874 T>A and evaluated by the Temperament and Character Inventory-Revised (TCI-R) and the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI). We found that the infectious disease-high-risk IFNG +874 A-allele was associated with increased HA (P=0.001) and decreased E (P=0.030) and Exp E (P=0.030). These findings suggest that the IFNG +874 A gene variant is linked both to infectious disease susceptibility and to proactive behavioral defenses that reduce infection risk in healthy subjects.