Genetic link found to emotional sensitivity in stressful situations

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In a recently published study, Dr Scientific reportThe researchers assessed how genetic diversity in the cluster of differences 38 (CD38) associated with increased personal distress in emotionally arousing situations.

Study: CD38 genetic variation associated with increased personal distress with an emotional stimulus.  Image credit: Dragana Gordic / Study: CD38 genetic variation is associated with increased personal distress with an emotional stimulus. Image credit: Dragana Gordic /

CD38 and oxytocin

Oxytocin is a peptide neurohormone actively involved in social behavior, including parent-infant bonding, especially immediately after childbirth, romantic relationships, and group dynamics. Oxytocin-related genetic variations have been linked to different effects on empathy, brain activation time, trauma response, and autism risk.

Recently, researchers have identified that A allele carriers CD38 The single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs3796863 had higher plasma oxytocin levels, more sensitive approaches to parenting, and stronger empathic responses. However, other studies have reported that students with the AA genotype CD38 SNP reported higher levels of suicidal ideation, depressive symptoms, and greater isolation from parents and peers.

These conflicting findings have led some researchers to theorize that A carriers may be more socially sensitive, which, in turn, may have a stronger negative emotional response to stressful situations. Despite this concept, no studies to date have evaluated its effects CD38 Genotypes on negative reactions to a stressful situation.

About the study

For the current study, researchers recruited Canadian university students aged 18 and older with no health problems expected to affect hormone levels. All study participants were shown a three-minute video of a father narrating his child’s terminal cancer story.

After the video, study participants completed a questionnaire to assess their emotional responses to 12 emotions, six of which involved feelings of empathic concern, while the remaining six involved feelings of personal distress. These responses were rated on a scale of one to five, with higher scores indicating higher endorsement of emotional responses.

Two Interpersonal Reaction Index (IRI) subscales, including the Personal Distress and Empathic Concern subscales, were used to explore CD38 Genotypes associated with behavioral measures of emotional reactivity. Participants completed the IRI approximately 10 minutes after viewing the emotional video, during which they rated their responses on a five-point Likert scale, with higher scores indicating increased empathy.

Study results

A total of 171 students participated in the present study, 24, 77, and 70 had AA, AC, and CC genotypes, respectively. CD38 SNP, respectively.

Mean-related response ratings were higher for females than for males and for AA/AC than for CC genotypes, thus suggesting that sex and CD38 Genotype affected these responses but not their interaction. Women also scored higher than men on empathy-related responses; However, these scores were not significantly different between different genotypes.

On both IRI subscales, there was a significant effect of gender, with females scoring higher than males. However, IRI subscale outcomes were not significantly different CD38 genotype

When seeing someone in distress, individuals with the A allele report negligible levels of empathy, a well-recognized caring response, but significantly higher levels of personal distress, a self-centered emotional response.

An empathy-inducing situation may elicit these two responses simultaneously; However, they can have different consequences. For example, when empathy encourages helping behavior to relieve the distress of a person in need, a distressed person may have an urge to alleviate their own suffering rather than offer help to another person in need.


The present study provides preliminary evidence that genetic variation CD38 Affects socio-emotional sensitivity. To this end, one allele carrier was more vulnerable to distress-related emotions in response to negative social stress.

The results of the study may reconcile the paradoxical findings CD38 An allele carrier is more empathic despite exhibiting poor interpersonal outcomes. Despite greater empathy, their high level of personal distress may prevent them from providing appropriate social support when involved in social conflict.

This information on oxytocin-related genetic variants can be used to predict individuals for whom the buffer against stress and anxiety in response to challenging interpersonal situations is weak. Because of their inability to control their negative emotions, these individuals should receive adequate and timely support.

Future studies, particularly in interpersonal contexts, need to use more natural empathy paradigms to assess the role CD38 Mental control.

Journal Reference:

  • Procyshyn, TL, Leclerc B├ędard, L., Crespi, BJ, & Bartz, JA (2024). CD38 genetic variation is associated with increased personal distress with an emotional stimulus. Scientific report 14(1); 1-7. doi:10.1038/s41598-024-53081-5

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