“Thrilling” gene explored


As the Olympics reach its midpoint, events such as moguls, slalom and half pipe leave spectators wondering how these athletes can even venture to attempt the speeds and aerial stunts that most people  never dream of doing.

A recent study, “Association of a common D3 dopamine receptor gene variant is associated with sensation seeking in skiers and snowboarders,” published in 2013, sought to discover if there was a genetic disposition that these daredevils shared. The study classified sensation seeking as the “desire to seek out new and thrilling sensations” which is associated with high-risk activities such as crime, illicit drug use, promiscuous sex and high-risk sports.

Researchers decided to study skiers and snowboarders because of the dangerous nature of these sports, the high potential for injury and unpredictable environmental hazards. In addition the range of types of skiers from cautious to “bats out of hell” who ride at excessive speeds and go off the trail, provides a varying degree of sensation seekers within the skier and snowboarder sample group.

Sensation seeking is considered an approach trait, which means that it involves an “increased engagement in behaviors associated with reward.” Approach traits have possible genetic influences. In the past many studies that investigated approach traits and studied dopaminergic transmission in conjunction because of dopamine’s involvement with “reward processes” in the brain. Taking this information from previous experimenters, this particular study aimed to examine the dopamine receptors genes of skiers and snowboarders to more consummately understand sensation seeking.

Sampling from a variety of proficient skiers and snowboarders at the 2010 Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival in Whistler, Canada, experimenters swabbed each participant’s mouth for a DNA sample.

In addition participants completed two short questionnaires: the Zukerman Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire (ZKPQ) using the Impulsive Sensation Seeking (ImpSS) scale and the Contextual Sensation Seeking Questionnaire for Skiing and Snowboarding (CSSQ-S).

They also gathered demographic information such as age, sex, ethnicity, martial status, education, occupation and  sport information such as the type of sport, ability, and number of days skied per year. Then using the information they gathered they performed genetic analysis on the DNA and then used joint-analysis on questionnaires and DNA.

On their initial screen they found a few variants associated with sensation seeking on the D3-receptor gene (DRD3), one of which was the rs167771 variant. After further tests the DRD3 variants was still significant. This means that the researchers found a place on the gene that may be a possible link to the sensation seeking behavior they were investigating.

What was most interesting about this experiment was the involvement of the rs167771 variant because this study is the first to show rs167771’s possible role in sensation seeking.

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