A genetic mutation linked to possible violent outbursts and impulsivity has been found in male criminals in Finland. The mutation, known as HTR2B, was found to prevent the production of serotonin in men convicted of arson and violence.
The variant in a brain receptor molecule, which was discovered by comparing violent criminals against a control group, also makes people more likely to be aggressive when drunk.
It is hoped that the findings could lead to the better treatment of violent offenders and more understanding of why some people are prone to aggressive outbursts. According to the latest issue of Nature, which published the study, so far the gene has only been found in Finnish men.
“Impulsivity, or action without foresight, is a factor in many pathological behaviours including suicide, aggression, and addiction,” said Dr David Goldman chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “But it is also a trait that can be of value if a quick decision must be made or in situations where risk-taking is favoured,” he added.
“We conducted this study in Finland because of its unique population history and medical genetics,” continued Dr Goldman. “Modern Finns are descended from a relatively small number of original settlers, which has reduced the genetic complexity of diseases in that country. Studying the genetics of violent criminal offenders within Finland increased our chances of finding genes that influence impulsive behaviour.”