Objective: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is common in older adults and can be treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Genetic variation in the serotonin transporter gene promoter region is posited to be associated with SSRI efficacy: 2 polymorphisms (5-HTTLPR S/L and rs25531 g/a) form a haplotype with the La combination having higher transcription activity than other haplotypes. We hypothesized that GAD patients with no La haplotypes (La-) have lower SSRI treatment efficacy than those with 1 to 2 La haplotypes (La+). Method: The study enrolled subjects aged 60 years or older with a principal diagnosis of GAD into a 12-week, randomized trial of escitalopram versus placebo. One hundred fifty subjects were genotyped for the serotonin transporter promoter region haplotype and were divided into La - and La+ genotype groups; the primary analyses were done in European Americans only (n = 125; n = 59 with escitalopram and n = 66 with placebo). Results: Escitalopram had no efficacy in the La- group versus moderate efficacy in the La group. This genetic moderation of SSRI efficacy was due to a higher placebo response in La+ subjects, compared with La subjects. Drug concentration did not affect the genetic results. Exploratory analyses suggest that La- subjects had greater variability of anxiety symptoms unrelated to treatment. Conclusions: The serotonin transporter promoter haplotype is associated with variability in SSRI efficacy for late-life GAD. The variability may result from a genetic effect on anxiety symptom variability unrelated to treatment, rather than a pharmacodynamic effect that has been previously assumed. Further research is needed to understand the pharmacogenetic mechanism of this haplotype.
- anxiety disorders