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29 August 2012
Found: female happiness gene

Researchers say they have found a gene that appears to make women - but not men - happy; possibly explaining why women are often happier than men.

Writing in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, scientists at the University of South Florida say that the low-expression form of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is associated with higher self-reported happiness in women.

"This is the first happiness gene for women," said the study's lead author Henian Chen. "I was surprised by the result, because low expression of MAOA has been related to some negative outcomes like alcoholism, aggressiveness and antisocial behavior. It's even called the warrior gene by some scientists, but, at least for women, our study points to a brighter side of this gene."

The MAOA gene regulates the activity of an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain the same "feel-good" chemicals targeted by many antidepressants. The low-expression version of the MAOA gene promotes higher levels of monoamine, which allows larger amounts of these neurotransmitters to stay in the brain and boost mood.

Chen notes that while women experience higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders, they tend to report greater overall life happiness than do men. The reason for this remains unclear but Chen thinks the new finding may help us to explain the gender difference and provide more insight into the link between specific genes and human happiness.

Interestingly, while a substantial number of men carried a copy of the "happy" version of the MAOA gene, they reported no more happiness than those without it. So, why the genetic gender gap in feeling good?

The researchers suspect the difference may be explained in part by the hormone testosterone, found in much smaller amounts in women than in men. Chen suggests that testosterone may cancel out the positive effect of MAOA on happiness in men. The potential benefit of MAOA in boys could wane as testosterone levels rise with puberty, Chen said. "Maybe men are happier before adolescence because their testosterone levels are lower."

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Source: University of South Florid

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