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The MAOA Warrior Gene + Testing, Effects of High/Low Levels

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Reviewed by Nattha Wannissorn, PhD | Last updated:

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I became more interested in the warrior gene after seeing it in an episode of “The Blacklist” (season 2 episode 4).

You can get your genes sequenced quite easily (genetics test).

What is MAO-A?

Monoamine oxidase An (MAO-A) is an enzyme in the brain that breaks down neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine.

If we have high levels of this enzyme, it means we’ll have fewer neurotransmitters.

If we have low levels of this enzyme, we’ll have more neurotransmitters.

MAO-A is not something we want to be too high or too low because in both situations it will cause different negative effects.

In our evolutionary history, high or low levels could have been advantageous in different environments.

MAO-A Gene Versions

There are a few main versions of a gene that produces MAO-A: 2R, 3R, 4R. The ‘2R’ version of the gene results in the lowest MAO-A production, while the ‘4R’ version results in the highest level of MAO-A, and the least aggression. 3R is somewhere in between.

So if you’ve got the 2R or 3R version, you’re going to produce less MAO-A and have more circulating adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.

It’s known as the “Warrior Gene” because 2R and 3R are associated with increased violence and aggressiveness- especially 2R.

How to Check Your MAO-A Enzyme Genes

There is no SNP that perfectly correlates with 2-5R version. There are only SNPs that correlate with these versions somewhat. It depends on groups of SNPs and also on your gender.

You can check some SNPs in your genetics test results by looking for:

Rs909525 (MAOA Gene) – This is the best proxy for the number of repeats of the MAOA warrior gene.

If you have “TT” or just “T” (males), then you most probably have the less aggressive version. T=Less Aggressive.

It was always “T” for people with the 4 or 5R non-Warrior version and always “C” in people with the 3R Warrior version. But if you are “C”, it doesn’t mean you have the warrior gene and if you are “T”, it doesn’t mean you don’t. It just means it’s more likely. C=More Aggressive.

On the other hand, men (but not females) with the T allele had higher rates of suicide compared to controls (70.5% vs 54%) [1].

The combination rs909525(T) AND rs6323(G) AND rs3027399(G) indicate specifically that it is the 5R version. The 2R version and the 3.5R version weren’t mentioned [2].

Rs2064070 – Males with rs909525 (C), rs6323 (G) and rs2064070 (A) had higher scores on the scale measuring the expression of anger outwards [1]. Females with TT allele reported higher “spontaneous aggression” [1].

Rs6323 (MAOA R297R Gene) – The G or GG allele indicates higher levels of the enzyme, while the T allele indicates lower levels (T is the ‘risk’ allele). In females, the G allele was associated with higher outward anger (p = 0.002) and it seems like G allele also causes aggression in males [1].

The T allele was overrepresented in patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder [1]. T=Anxiety.

Females with TT reported higher levels of “angry temperament”. Female suicide attempters with TT reported higher “self-aggression” [1].

Rs3027399 (MAOA) – The combination rs909525(A) AND rs6323(G) AND rs3027399(G) indicate specifically that it is the 5R version. The 2R version and the 3.5R version weren’t mentioned [2].

Rs2235186 (MAOA Gene) was correlated with anger control traits of healthy female college students in China [3]. I don’t know which allele was associated with more anger control.

Rs1799836 (MAOB) – Different gene, but why not include it. “TT was associated with being angry in both males and females [1].

How the Body Responds to MAO-A

The Effects of High MAO-A Levels

There’s some contradictory information, but I’m selecting the information that best fits in the overall picture.

People with major depressive disorder have an average of 34% more MAO-A in their brains.

Accordingly, people with high producing MAO-A genes are more likely to have major depression, suicide, and sleep disturbances.

This means that these neurotransmitters prevent major depression and can increase our mood, especially dopamine and serotonin. Not surprising.

Abused children with genes causing high levels of MAO-A were less likely to develop antisocial behavior.

Effects of Low MAO-A Levels

People with the low-activity MAO-A gene (2R, 3R) are overall more prone to violence.

Specifically, when these people feel very provoked or socially isolated their aggression will come out.

People with low MAO-A are more likely to be risk takers. They are also more likely to take revenge and use greater force if they get screwed over, but not for small screw overs.

Mice with low MAO-A are also more aggressive in general and are more likely to start turf wars.

People and mice with low MAO-A are more impulsive and aggressive.

People with low MAO-A who are abused as kids show more aggressive behavior as an adult.

People with low MAO-A (3R) who ALSO have high testosterone, poor living standards and/or low IQ are more prone to violence.

So the perfect violence soup is low MAO-A, social isolation, high testosterone, being poor and having a low IQ.

There are obviously other genes and factors involved in violence, but this post is about MAO-A.

MAOA and Cognitive Function

There’s another SNP mutation (in rs6609257) that results in low visuospatial working memory and this is predictive of ‘maladaptive’ behavior (aggression, etc…) [4].

Specifically, the A allele of rs6609257 is associated with more MAO-A and higher levels of working memory and the G allele is associated with lower levels [4].

See working memory with A vs G allele:

Screenshot 2014-12-21 00.59.31

MAOA and the Placebo Response

People who produce more MAO-A (MAO-A R297R G or GG) aren’t as affected by the placebo effect [5].

Different Frequencies Among Racial Groups and Gender

The Warrior Gene was found to be more or less prevalent in different groups.

The 3R version, which produces less MAO-A, was found in 59% of Black men, 56% of Maori men (an aboriginal New Zealand group), 54% of Chinese men and 34% of Caucasian men.

The 2R version, which produces the least MAO-A, is found in 5.5% of Black men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men.

Women are less likely to have these genes.

How to Modify Your MAO-A Levels

What To Do If You Have Low MAO-A

Basic Fixes If You’re a Low MAO-A Producer

  • Ginkgo. When Ginkgo Biloba was administered to mice without MAOA, their aggressive behavior in confrontations was reduced to levels seen in normal mice [6].
  • Riboflavin is needed for MAOA, so make sure you take a good B Complex.

Advanced Fixes If You’re a Low MAO-A Producer

  • Progesterone increases MAO [7]. It also reduces aggression – as does estrogen [8, 9].
  • 5HT2A blockers reduce aggressiveness in mice without MAOA [6].
  • BMAL1, a core circadian protein, increases MAOA [10]. This means if you disrupt your circadian rhythm, it will result in lower BMAL1 and lower MAOA. Learn how to keep to a circadian rhythm.
  • SIRT1 causes the activation (by deacetylation) of MAO-A [11]. So follow the SIRT1 activation supplements to increase MAOA activity – those that don’t simultaneously decrease MAOA.
  • Valproic acid also increases MAO-A, but I wouldn’t call it a safe drug.

What To Do If You Have High MAO-A

The following are common supplements that might inhibit MAO-A, which means you want to be more careful before you take them if you’ve got low MAO-A genes and you might do better with these if you’re a high MAOA producer:

The effect of any of these aren’t too great, so I wouldn’t worry too much. Also, many of these activate SIRT1, which increases MAOA activity (so it counterbalances).

If you want to analyze your genome, SelfDecode is the best tool out there to do that.

Want Better Ways to Improve Your Mood?

If you’re interested in natural and targeted ways of improving your mood, we recommend checking out SelfDecode’s Mood DNA Wellness Report. It gives genetic-based diet, lifestyle and supplement tips that can help improve your mood. The recommendations are personalized based on your genes.

SelfDecode is a sister company of SelfHacked. The proceeds from your purchase of this product are reinvested into our research and development, in order to serve you better. Thanks for your support!

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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