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Genes & Placebos

December 25, 2008

A genetic variant is associated with a stronger placebo effect in some patients.


A genetic sensitivity to placebos. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For the first time, scientists have linked a specific gene variant to the placebo effect, at least in one situation. Psychologist Tomas Furmark, of the University of Uppsala in Sweden, says it started as a test of a new drug for social anxiety. Standard procedure requires giving some subjects a placebo, or sham drug, to see if the real one works. Furmark says 40 percent of the placebo group got better.

TOMAS FURMARK (Uppsala University, Sweden):
The clinical effect was as evident as it was in groups that were treated with active drugs. And about 60 percent of the subjects did not respond at all to the placebo.

The groups had different forms of a gene that controls a brain chemical called serotonin. But it’s not yet clear how serotonin affects the placebo response. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.