The ‘wanderlust’ gene is a genetic variation of the DRD4 gene. This variation occurs in a region of the gene that is repeated between 2 to 11 times. Those with the wanderlust gene have at least one copy of DRD4 with 7 or more repeats (7R+).
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or a chemical made in the brain that gives us feelings of reward and pleasure. The dopamine receptor D4 (encoded by the DRD4 gene) binds dopamine and transmits the signal into the cells.
The “wanderlust” variant of DRD4 binds dopamine less efficiently, compared to the common 4R version. As a result reduced levels of the dopamine “feel good” signal is transmitted in the brain.
People with this variant need higher dopamine levels to achieve the same “feel good” effects, and appear to increase dopamine levels through novelty-seeking behaviour such as traveling, exploring and sexual activity.