Increasing amounts of data suggest that affective disorders might be related to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, one of the stress-response systems. Arginine vasopressin (AVP) influences several symptoms, relevant to affective disorders, notable memory processes, pain sensitivity, synchronization of biological rhythms and the timing and quality of REM sleep. We examined whether genetic variations in the AVP receptor 1b gene (AVPR1b) could be associated with increased susceptibility to affective disorders using a gene-based association analysis of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Five SNPs were identified in AVPR1b and genotyped in two well-diagnosed samples of patients with recurrent major depression and matched controls. In the Swedish sample, we observed significant allele (P=0.02) and genotype (P=0.01) association with SNP AVPR1b-s3, and in the Belgian sample, a borderline significant association with SNP AVPR1b-s5 (P=0.04). In both patient-control samples, the haplotype defined by alleles A-T-C-A-G for the AVPR1b-s SNPs s1-s2-s3-s4-s5 was significantly over-represented in controls compared to patients. Our data support a protective effect of this major haplotype for recurrent major depression.