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1.  Mapping the conformational space accessible to catechol-O-methyltransferase 
Crystal structures of mouse, rat and human catechol-O-methyltransferase were determined in apo, semi-holo, holo and Michaelis forms under a variety of conditions. Domain swaps and large conformational changes in the active sites are observed, which testify to why this enzyme is a difficult drug target.
Methylation catalysed by catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is the main pathway of catechol neurotransmitter deactivation in the prefrontal cortex. Low levels of this class of neurotransmitters are held to be causative of diseases such as schizophrenia, depression and Parkinson’s disease. Inhibition of COMT may increase neurotransmitter levels, thus offering a route for treatment. Structure-based drug design hitherto seems to be based on the closed enzyme conformation. Here, a set of apo, semi-holo, holo and Michaelis form crystal structures are described that define the conformational space available to COMT and that include likely intermediates along the catalytic pathway. Domain swaps and sizeable loop movements around the active site testify to the flexibility of this enzyme, rendering COMT a difficult drug target. The low affinity of the co-substrate S-adenosylmethionine and the large conformational changes involved during catalysis highlight significant energetic investment to achieve the closed conformation. Since each conformation of COMT is a bona fide target for inhibitors, other states than the closed conformation may be promising to address. Crystallographic data for an alternative avenue of COMT inhibition, i.e. locking of the apo state by an inhibitor, are presented. The set of COMT structures may prove to be useful for the development of novel classes of inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC4118827  PMID: 25084335
catechol-O-methyltransferase; neurotransmitter degradation; catecholamine metabolism; SAM; S-adenosylmethionine
2.  How Metal Substitution Affects the Enzymatic Activity of Catechol-O-Methyltransferase 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47172.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) degrades catecholamines, such as dopamine and epinephrine, by methylating them in the presence of a divalent metal cation (usually Mg(II)), and S-adenosyl-L-methionine. The enzymatic activity of COMT is known to be vitally dependent on the nature of the bound metal: replacement of Mg(II) with Ca(II) leads to a complete deactivation of COMT; Fe(II) is slightly less than potent Mg(II), and Fe(III) is again an inhibitor. Considering the fairly modest role that the metal plays in the catalyzed reaction, this dependence is puzzling, and to date remains an enigma. Using a quantum mechanical / molecular mechanical dynamics method for extensive sampling of protein structure, and first principle quantum mechanical calculations for the subsequent mechanistic study, we explicate the effect of metal substitution on the rate determining step in the catalytic cycle of COMT, the methyl transfer. In full accord with experimental data, Mg(II) bound to COMT is the most potent of the studied cations and it is closely followed by Fe(II), whereas Fe(III) is unable to promote catalysis. In the case of Ca(II), a repacking of the protein binding site is observed, leading to a significant increase in the activation barrier and higher energy of reaction. Importantly, the origin of the effect of metal substitution is different for different metals: for Fe(III) it is the electronic effect, whereas in the case of Ca(II) it is instead the effect of suboptimal protein structure.
PMCID: PMC3466255  PMID: 23056605
3.  Identification, Characterization, and Ontogenic Study of a Catechol O-methyltransferase from Zebrafish 
To establish the zebrafish as a model for investigating the methylation pathway of drug metabolism, we embarked on the molecular cloning of the zebrafish catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT). By searching the GenBank database, a zebrafish nucleotide sequence encoding a putative COMT was identified. Based on the sequence information, we designed and synthesized oligonucleotides corresponding to its 5’- and 3’-coding regions of this zebrafish COMT. Using the first-strand cDNA reverse-transcribed from the total RNA isolated from a 3-month-old adult female zebrafish as the template, the cDNA encoding the zebrafish COMT was PCR-amplified. The recombinant zebrafish COMT protein was subsequently expressed in and purified from BL21 (DE3) Escherichia coli cells transformed with the pGEX-2TK expression vector harboring the zebrafish COMT cDNA. Upon enzymatic characterization, purified COMT displayed methylating activity toward dopamine, dopa, and catecholestrogens, as well as three representative catechol drugs, methyldopa, dobutamine, and isoproterenol. A reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis revealed developmental stage-dependent expression of the zebrafish COMT during embryonic development and throughout the larval stage onto maturity. These results provide a foundation for investigating the involvement of COMT-mediated methylation in protection against the adverse effects of catechol drugs and other xenobiotic catechols during the developmental process.
PMCID: PMC3515678  PMID: 21371608
Catechol O-methyltransferase; developmental expression; methylation; molecular cloning; zebrafish
4.  Methylation of sulfhydryl groups: a new function for a family of small molecule plant O-methyltransferases 
In plants, type I and II S-adenosyl-L-methionine-dependent O-methyltransferases (OMTs) catalyze most hydroxyl group methylations of small molecules. A homology-based RT-PCR strategy using Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) RNA previously identified six new type I plant OMT family members. We now describe the molecular and biochemical characterization of a seventh protein. It shares 56–58% identity with caffeic acid OMTs (COMTs), but it failed to methylate COMT substrates, and had no activity with flavonoids. However, the in vitro incubations revealed unusually high background levels without added substrates. A search for the responsible component revealed that the enzyme methylated dithiothreitol (DTT), the reducing agent added for enzyme stabilization. Unexpectedly, product analysis revealed that the methylation occurred on a sulfhydryl moiety, not on a hydroxyl group. Analysis of 34 compounds indicated a broad substrate range, with a preference for small hydrophobic molecules. Benzene thiol (Km 220 μM) and furfuryl thiol (Km 60 μM) were the best substrates (6–7-fold better than DTT). Small isosteric hydrophobic substrates with hydroxyl groups, like phenol and guaiacol, were also methylated, but the activities were at least 5-fold lower than with thiols. The enzyme was named C. roseus S-methyltransferase 1 (CrSMT1). Models based on the COMT crystal structure suggest that S-methylation is mechanistically identical to O-methylation. CrSMT1 so far is the only recognized example of an S-methyltransferase in this protein family. Its properties indicate that a few changes in key residues are sufficient to convert an OMT into a S-methyltransferase (SMT). Future functional investigations of plant methyltransferases should consider the possibility that the enzymes may direct methylation at sulfhydryl groups.
PMCID: PMC2860623  PMID: 16623883
Catharanthus roseus; S-methyltransferase; O-methyltransferase; evolution; protein modeling; homology-based cDNA cloning
5.  Serotonin-Induced Hypersensitivity via Inhibition of Catechol O-Methyltransferase Activity 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:25.
The subcutaneous and systemic injection of serotonin reduces cutaneous and visceral pain thresholds and increases responses to noxious stimuli. Different subtypes of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) receptors are suggested to be associated with different types of pain responses. Here we show that serotonin also inhibits catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that contributes to modultion the perception of pain, via non-competitive binding to the site bound by catechol substrates with a binding affinity comparable to the binding affinity of catechol itself (Ki = 44 μM). Using computational modeling, biochemical tests and cellular assays we show that serotonin actively competes with the methyl donor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) within the catalytic site. Binding of serotonin to the catalytic site inhibits the access of SAM, thus preventing methylation of COMT substrates. The results of in vivo animal studies show that serotonin-induced pain hypersensitivity in mice is reduced by either SAM pretreatment or by the combined administration of selective antagonists for β2- and β3-adrenergic receptors, which have been previously shown to mediate COMT-dependent pain signaling. Our results suggest that inhibition of COMT via serotonin binding contributes to pain hypersensitivity, providing additional strategies for the treatment of clinical pain conditions.
PMCID: PMC3495668  PMID: 22500608
6.  A Hotspot of Inactivation: The A22S and V108M Polymorphisms Individually Destabilize the Active Site Structure of Catechol O-Methyltransferase† 
Biochemistry  2009;48(27):6450-6460.
Human catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) contains three common polymorphisms (A22S, A52T, V108M), two of which (A22S, V108M) render the protein susceptible to deactivation by temperature or oxidation. We have performed multiple molecular dynamics simulations of the wild-type, A22S, A52T, and V108M COMT proteins to explore the structural consequences of these mutations. In total, we have amassed over 1.4 μs of simulation time representing the largest set of simulations detailing the effects of polymorphisms on a protein system to date. The A52T mutation had no significant effect on COMT structure in accord with experiment, thereby serving as a good negative control for the simulation set. Residues 22 (α2) and 108 (α5) interact with each other throughout the simulations and are located in a polymorphic hotspot ∼20Å from the active site. Introduction of either the larger Ser (22) or Met (108) tightens this interaction, pulling α2 and α5 towards each other and away from the protein core. The V108M polymorphism rearranges active-site residues in α5, β3 and α6, increasing the S-adenosylmethionine site solvent exposure. The A22S mutation reorients α2, moving critical catechol-binding residues away from the substrate-binding pocket. The A22S and V108M polymorphisms evolved independently in Northern European and Asian populations. While the decreased activities of both A22S and V108M COMT are associated with an increased risk for schizophrenia, the V108M induced destabilization is also linked with improved cognitive function. These results suggest that polymorphisms within this hotspot may have evolved to regulate COMT activity and that heterozygosity for either mutation may be advantageous.
PMCID: PMC2906713  PMID: 19435324
catechol O-methyltransferase; polymorphism; molecular dynamics; schizophrenia; breast cancer; drug development
7.  Structure-function relationships of wheat flavone O-methyltransferase: Homology modeling and site-directed mutagenesis 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:156.
Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) O-methyltransferase (TaOMT2) catalyzes the sequential methylation of the flavone, tricetin, to its 3'-methyl- (selgin), 3',5'-dimethyl- (tricin) and 3',4',5'-trimethyl ether derivatives. Tricin, a potential multifunctional nutraceutical, is the major enzyme reaction product. These successive methylations raised the question as to whether they take place in one, or different active sites. We constructed a 3-D model of this protein using the crystal structure of the highly homologous Medicago sativa caffeic acid/5-hydroxyferulic acid O-methyltransferase (MsCOMT) as a template with the aim of proposing a mechanism for multiple methyl transfer reactions in wheat.
This model revealed unique structural features of TaOMT2 which permit the stepwise methylation of tricetin. Substrate binding is mediated by an extensive network of H-bonds and van der Waals interactions. Mutational analysis of structurally guided active site residues identified those involved in binding and catalysis. The partly buried tricetin active site, as well as proximity and orientation effects ensured sequential methylation of the substrate within the same pocket. Stepwise methylation of tricetin involves deprotonation of its hydroxyl groups by a His262-Asp263 pair followed by nucleophilic attack of SAM-methyl groups. We also demonstrate that Val309, which is conserved in a number of graminaceous flavone OMTs, defines the preference of TaOMT2 for tricetin as the substrate.
We propose a mechanism for the sequential methylation of tricetin, and discuss the potential application of TaOMT2 to increase the production of tricin as a nutraceutical. The single amino acid residue in TaOMT2, Val309, determines its preference for tricetin as the substrate, and may define the evolutionary differences between the two closely related proteins, COMT and flavone OMT.
PMCID: PMC3017781  PMID: 20670441
8.  Comprehensive interrogation of CpG island methylation in the gene encoding COMT, a key estrogen and catecholamine regulator 
The catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) enzyme has been widely studied due to its multiple roles in neurological functioning, estrogen biology, and methylation metabolic pathways. Numerous studies have investigated variation in the large COMT gene, with the majority focusing on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). This body of work has linked COMT genetic variation with a vast array of conditions, including several neurobehavioral disorders, pain sensitivity, and multiple human cancers. Based on COMT’s numerous biological roles and recent studies suggesting that methylation of the COMT gene impacts COMT gene expression, we comprehensively interrogated methylation in over 200 CpG dinucleotide sequences spanning the length of the COMT gene.
Using saliva-derived DNA from a non-clinical sample of human subjects, we tested for associations between COMT CpG methylation and factors reported to interact with COMT genetic effects, including demographic factors and alcohol use. Finally, we tested associations between COMT CpG methylation state and COMT gene expression in breast cancer cell lines. We interrogated >200 CpGs in 13 amplicons spanning the 5’ UTR to the last exon of the CpG dinucleotide-rich COMT gene in n = 48 subjects, n = 11 cell lines and 1 endogenous 18S rRNA control.
With the exception of the CpG island in the 5’UTR and 1st exon, all other CpG islands were strongly methylated with typical dynamic ranges between 50-90%. In the saliva samples, methylation of multiple COMT loci was associated with socioeconomic status or ethnicity. We found associations between methylation at numerous loci and genotype at the functional Val 158 Met SNP (rs4680), and most of the correlations between methylation and demographic and alcohol use factors were Val 158 Met allele-specific. Methylation at several of these loci also associated with COMT gene expression in breast cancer cell lines.
We report the first comprehensive interrogation of COMT methylation. We corroborate previous findings of variation in COMT methylation with gene expression and the Val 158 Met genotype, and also report novel associations with socioeconomic status (SES) and ethnicity at several methylated loci. These results point to novel mechanisms for COMT regulation, which may have broad therapeutic implications.
PMCID: PMC3910242  PMID: 24460628
9.  Inhibition of Human Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT)-Mediated O-Methylation of Catechol Estrogens by Major Polyphenolic Components Present in Coffee1 
In the present study, we investigated the inhibitory effect of three catechol-containing coffee polyphenols, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid and caffeic acid phenethyl ester, on the O-methylation of 2- and 4-hydroxyestradiol (2-OH-E2 and 4-OH-E2, respectively) catalyzed by the cytosolic catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) isolated from human liver and placenta. When human liver COMT was used as the enzyme, chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid each inhibited the O-methylation of 2-OH-E2 in a concentration-dependent manner, with IC50 values of 1.3–1.4 and 6.3–12.5 μM, respectively, and they also inhibited the O-methylation of 4-OH-E2, with IC50 values of 0.7–0.8 and 1.3–3.1 μM, respectively. Similar inhibition pattern was seen with human placental COMT preparation. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester had a comparable effect as caffeic acid for inhibiting the O-methylation of 2-OH-E2, but it had a weaker inhibition of the O-methylation of 4-OH-E2. Enzyme kinetic analyses showed that chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid inhibited the human liver and placental COMT-mediated O-methylation of catechol estrogens with a mixed mechanism of inhibition (competitive plus noncompetitive). Computational molecular modeling analysis showed that chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid can bind to human soluble COMT at the active site in a similar manner as the catechol estrogen substrates. Moreover, the binding energy values of these two coffee polyphenols are lower than that of catechol estrogens, which means that coffee polyphenols have higher binding affinity for the enzyme than the natural substrates. This computational finding agreed perfectly with our biochemical data.
PMCID: PMC2674329  PMID: 19095062
Coffee polyphenols; Catechol estrogens; 2-Hydroxyestradiol; 4-Hydroxyestradiol; Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT); Estrogen metabolism; Liver; Placenta; Enzyme inhibition; Computational modeling
10.  Is COMT a Susceptibility Gene for Schizophrenia? 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2007;33(3):635-641.
Catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) is a catabolic enzyme involved in the degradation of a number of bioactive molecules; of principal interest to psychiatry, these include dopamine. The enzyme is encoded by the COMT gene. COMT is located (along with 47 other genes) in a fragment of chromosome 22q11 which when deleted results in a complex syndrome, the psychiatric manifestations of which include schizophrenia and other psychoses. These 2 observations have placed COMT near the top of a rather long list of plausible candidate genes for schizophrenia. The ability to test the hypothesis that COMT might be a susceptibility gene for schizophrenia has been simplified in principle by the existence of a valine-to-methionine (Val/Met) polymorphism which results respectively in high and low activity forms of the enzyme. Given the unequivocal effect of this polymorphism on the function of COMT, and the evidence for a critical role for dopamine in the pathophysiology and treatment of psychosis, there are strong prior expectations that Val/Met influences susceptibility to schizophrenia as well as other psychiatric phenotypes. Indeed the Val/Met polymorphism has become the most widely studied polymorphism in psychiatry. In this review, we consider the evidence for and against the involvement of COMT in schizophrenia. The current data allow us to virtually exclude a simple relationship between schizophrenia and the Val/Met variant previously thought to dominate COMT function. However, recent data suggest a more complex pattern of genetic regulation of COMT function beyond that attributable to the Val/Met locus. Moreover, it is also clear that there is a complex nonlinear relationship between dopamine availability and brain function. These 2 factors, allied to phenotypic complexity within schizophrenia, make it difficult to draw strong conclusions regarding COMT in schizophrenia. Nevertheless, emerging research that takes greater account of all these levels of complexity is beginning to provide tantalizing, but far from definitive, support for the view that COMT influences susceptibility to at least some forms of psychosis.
PMCID: PMC2526139  PMID: 17412710
schizophrenia; COMT; prefrontal cortex; association; cognition; psychosis
11.  Association of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in CYP1B1 and COMT Genes with Breast Cancer Susceptibility in Indian Women 
Disease markers  2009;27(5):203-210.
Cytochrome P450 1B1 (CYP1B1) and catechol-$O$-methyltransferase (COMT) enzymes play critical roles in estrogen metabolism. Alterations in the catalytic activity of CYP1B1 and COMT enzymes have been found associated with altered breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women in many populations. The substitution of leucine (Leu) to valine (Val) at codon 432 increases the catalytic activity of CYP1B1, however, substitution of Val to methionine (Met) at codon 158 decreases the catalytic activity of COMT. The present study was performed to evaluate the associations of CYP1B1 Leu432Val and/or COMT Val158Met polymorphisms with total, premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer risks in Indian women. COMT and CYP1B1 polymorphisms in controls and breast cancer patients were analyzed employing polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) followed by gel electrophoresis. Although CYP1B1 and COMT genotypes did not exhibit statistically significant association with breast cancer risks when analyzed individually, COMT wild type (Val158Val) in combination with CYP1B1 heterozygous variant (Leu432Val) [OR: 0.21; 95% CI (0.05–0.82), p value; 0.021] and COMT heterozygous variant (Val158Met) in combination with CYP1B1 wild type (Leu432Leu) [OR: 0.29; 95% CI (0.08–0.96), p value; 0.042] showed significant protective association with premenopausal breast cancer risk. The results demonstrate that CYP1B1 wild type in combination with COMT heterozygous or their inverse combination offer protection against breast cancer in premenopausal Indian women.
PMCID: PMC3835283  PMID: 20037207
Breast cancer; genetic polymorphism; CYP1B1; COMT
12.  Down-regulation of the caffeic acid O-methyltransferase gene in switchgrass reveals a novel monolignol analog 
Down-regulation of the caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase EC (COMT) gene in the lignin biosynthetic pathway of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) resulted in cell walls of transgenic plants releasing more constituent sugars after pretreatment by dilute acid and treatment with glycosyl hydrolases from an added enzyme preparation and from Clostridium thermocellum. Fermentation of both wild-type and transgenic switchgrass after milder hot water pretreatment with no water washing showed that only the transgenic switchgrass inhibited C. thermocellum. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GCMS)-based metabolomics were undertaken on cell wall aqueous extracts to determine the nature of the microbial inhibitors.
GCMS confirmed the increased concentration of a number of phenolic acids and aldehydes that are known inhibitors of microbial fermentation. Metabolomic analyses of the transgenic biomass additionally revealed the presence of a novel monolignol-like metabolite, identified as trans-3, 4-dimethoxy-5-hydroxycinnamyl alcohol (iso-sinapyl alcohol) in both non-pretreated, as well as hot water pretreated samples. iso-Sinapyl alcohol and its glucoside were subsequently generated by organic synthesis and the identity of natural and synthetic materials were confirmed by mass spectrometric and NMR analyses. The additional novel presence of iso-sinapic acid, iso-sinapyl aldehyde, and iso-syringin suggest the increased activity of a para-methyltransferase, concomitant with the reduced COMT activity, a strict meta-methyltransferase. Quantum chemical calculations were used to predict the most likely homodimeric lignans generated from dehydration reactions, but these products were not evident in plant samples.
Down-regulation of COMT activity in switchgrass resulted in the accumulation of previously undetected metabolites resembling sinapyl alcohol and its related metabolites, but that are derived from para-methylation of 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol, and related precursors and products; the accumulation of which suggests altered metabolism of 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol in switchgrass. Given that there was no indication that iso-sinapyl alcohol was integrated in cell walls, it is considered a monolignol analog. Diversion of substrates from sinapyl alcohol to free iso-sinapyl alcohol, its glucoside, and associated upstream lignin pathway changes, including increased phenolic aldehydes and acids, are together associated with more facile cell wall deconstruction, and to the observed inhibitory effect on microbial growth. However, iso-sinapyl alcohol and iso-sinapic acid, added separately to media, were not inhibitory to C. thermocellum cultures.
PMCID: PMC3524654  PMID: 22998926
trans-3; 4-Dimethoxy-5-hydroxycinnamyl alcohol; iso-Sinapyl alcohol; Monolignol; Switchgrass; Bioenergy; Recalcitrance; Caffeic acid O-methyltransferase; Transgenic
13.  Lack of Association Between COMT and Working Memory in a Population-Based Cohort of Healthy Young Adults 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2013;38(7):1253-1263.
The Val158Met polymorphism of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene is an important regulator of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex, an area critical to working memory. Working memory deficits are present in several psychiatric disorders, and there is wide variation in working memory capacity in the normal population. Association studies of COMT and working memory in healthy volunteers have yielded inconsistent results, possibly because of small sample sizes. Here we examine COMT in relation to N-Back working memory task performance in a large population-based cohort of young adults. We predicted individuals with one or two copies of the Met allele would perform better, and that this relationship would be more evident in males than females. Participants (N=1857–2659) tested at 18 years of age, were enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). We used multiple regression to examine effects of sex and COMT genotype on N-Back hits, false positives, discriminability (d'), and reaction time while controlling for important covariates. COMT genotype did not predict hits or d'. There was a nominally significant interaction between COMT and sex on false positives, but this was not in the predicted direction, and was not significant after controlling for covariates. COMT genotype was not related to working memory in this large population-based cohort. It is possible COMT is not meaningfully associated with working memory in healthy young adults, or that COMT effects are detectable only in assessments reflecting neural processes underlying cognition, such as fMRI, rather than in behavioral performance.
PMCID: PMC3656369  PMID: 23337869
dopamine; cognition; learning & memory; neurogenetics; COMT genotype; executive functioning; ALSPAC; COMT genotype; executive functioning; working memory; genetics; ALSPAC
14.  Effect of Tolcapone on Brain Activity During a Variable Attentional Control Task: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Counter-Balanced Trial in Healthy Volunteers 
CNS drugs  2013;27(8):663-673.
Attention is the capacity to flexibly orient behaviors and thoughts towards a goal by selecting and integrating relevant contextual information. The dorsal cingulate (dCC) and prefrontal (PFC) cortices play critical roles in attention. Evidence indicates that catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) modulates dopaminergic tone in the PFC and dCC.
In this study, we explored the effect of tolcapone, a CNS penetrant COMT inhibitor that increases cortical dopamine levels, on brain activity during a Variable Attentional Control (VAC) task.
Study Design
We performed a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, counter-balanced trial with tolcapone (Tasmar, tablets, 100 mg three times a day for 1 day and then 200 mg three times a day for 6 days; identifier: NCT00044083).
The study was conducted in the Clinical Center of the National Institute of Mental Health from 2005 to 2009. Patients Twenty healthy volunteers (11 males; mean age = 32.7 years) with good imaging and performance data on both arms of the study were investigated.
Participants underwent 3T blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing the event-related VAC task, which varies attention over three levels of load: LOW, INT (intermediate), and HIGH.
Main Outcome Measure
Changes in behavioral data and individual contrast images were analyzed using ANOVA with drug and task load as co-factors.
There was a significant main effect of increasing task load, with resulting decreased accuracy and increased reaction time. While there was no significant effect of tolcapone on these behavioral measures, the neuroimaging data showed a significant effect on load-related changes in dCC, with significantly lower dCC activation on tolcapone compared with placebo. Further, neural activity in dCC correlated positively with COMT enzyme activity (i.e., lower COMT activity and presumably more dopamine was associated with lower activation in dCC, i.e., more efficient information processing).
Our results show that pharmacological reduction of COMT activity modulates the engagement of attentional mechanisms, selectively enhancing the efficiency of dCC processing in healthy volunteers, reflected as decreased activity for the same level of performance.
PMCID: PMC4135358  PMID: 23794107
15.  Breast Cancer Risk Reduction and Membrane-Bound Catechol O-Methyltransferase Genetic Polymorphisms 
Cancer research  2008;68(14):5997-6005.
Catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT)-catalyzed methylation of catecholestrogens has been proposed to play a protective role in estrogen-induced genotoxic carcinogenesis. We have taken a comprehensive approach to test the hypothesis that genetic variation in COMT might influence breast cancer risk. Fifteen COMT SNPs selected on the basis of in-depth resequencing of the COMT gene were genotyped in 1482 DNA samples from a Mayo Clinic breast cancer case-control study. Two common SNPs in the distal promoter for membrane-bound (MB) COMT, rs2020917 and rs737865, were associated with breast cancer risk reduction in premenopausal women in the Mayo Clinic study, with allele-specific odds ratios of 0.70 (95% CI = 0.52–0.95) and 0.68 (95% CI = 0.51–0.92), respectively. These two SNPs were then subjected to functional genomic analysis and were genotyped in an additional 3683 DNA samples from two independent case-control studies (GENICA and GESBC). Functional genomic experiments showed that these SNPs could up-regulate transcription and that they altered DNA-protein binding patterns. Furthermore, substrate kinetic and exon array analyses suggested a role for MB-COMT in catecholestrogen inactivation. The GENICA results were similar to the Mayo case-control observations, with ORs of 0.85 (95% CI = 0.72–1.00) and 0.85 (95% CI = 0.72–1.01) for the two SNPs. No significant effect was observed in the GESBC study. These studies demonstrated that two SNPs in the COMT distal promoter were associated with breast cancer risk reduction in 2 of 3 case-control studies, compatible with the results of functional genomic experiments, suggesting a role for MB-COMT in breast cancer risk.
PMCID: PMC2518124  PMID: 18632656
Catechol O-methyltransferase; COMT; MB-COMT; S-COMT; breast cancer risk; genetic polymorphism; SNPs; functional genomics
16.  Concerted actions of the catechol O-methyltransferase and the cytosolic sulfotransferase SULT1A3 in the metabolism of catecholic drugs 
Biochemical pharmacology  2012;84(9):1186-1195.
Catecholic drugs had been reported to be metabolized through conjugation reactions, particularly methylation and sulfation. Whether and how these two Phase II conjugation reactions may occur in a concerted manner, however, remained unclear. The current study was designed to investigate the methylation and/or sulfation of five catecholic drugs. Analysis of the spent media of HepG2 cells metabolically labeled with [35S]sulfate in the presence of individual catecholic drugs revealed the presence of two [35S]sulfated metabolites for dopamine, epinephrine, isoproterenol, and isoetharine, but only one [35S]sulfated metabolite for apomorphine. Further analyses using tropolone, a catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitor, indicated that one of the two [35S]sulfated metabolites of dopamine, epinephrine, isoproterenol, and isoetharine was a doubly conjugated (methylated and sulfated) product, since its level decreased proportionately with increasing concentrations of tropolone added to the labeling media. Moreover, while the inhibition of methylation resulted in a decrease of the total amount of [35S]sulfated metabolites, sulfation appeared to be capable of compensating the suppressed methylation in the metabolism of these four catecholic drugs. A two-stage enzymatic assay showed the sequential methylation and sulfation of dopamine, epinephrine, isoproterenol, and isoetharine mediated by, respectively, the COMT and the cytosolic sulfotransferase SULT1A3. Collectively, the results from the present study implied the concerted actions of the COMT and SULT1A3 in the metabolism of catecholic drugs.
PMCID: PMC3622478  PMID: 22917559
Methylation; Sulfation; COMTs; SULTs; Catecholic drugs
17.  The Influence of Metabolic Syndrome, Physical Activity, and Genotype on Catechol-O-Methyl Transferase Promoter-Region Methylation in Schizophrenia 
The pharmacogenomics journal  2012;13(3):264-271.
The catechol-o-methyl transferase (COMT) 158Val/Met variant has been suggested to play a role in COMT function. Epigenetic regulation of COMT may further influence the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in these patient populations. This study examined the correlation between COMT promoter methylation and metabolic syndrome in schizophrenia patients receiving atypical antipsychotic (AAP) therapy. DNA was extracted from peripheral blood samples of schizophrenia subjects screened for metabolic syndrome. Pyrosequencing was used to analyze two methylation sites of the COMT-s promoter region. Associations between AAP use, lifestyle variables, metabolic syndrome, and COMT genotype with peak methylation values were analyzed. Data are reported in 85 subjects. Methylation on CpG site 1 had a mean of 79.08% (± 4.71) and 12.43% (±1.19) on site 2. COMT genotype proved to be an indicator of COMT methylation status on site 1 (F(2,84) = 5.78, p=0.0044) and site 2 (F(2,84), p=0.027). A significant negative correlation between physical activity and COMT promoter region methylation was found in Val/Val homozygous patients (Site 1: p=0.013 and Site 2: p=0.019). Those homozygous for Met/Met showed a positive correlation between promoter site methylation and physical activity (Site 1: p=0.027, Site 2: p=0.005), and between CpG site methylation and metabolic syndrome (Site 1: p=0.002; Site 2: p=0.001). The results of this study suggest COMT promoter region methylation is largely influenced by COMT genotype and that physical activity plays a significant role in epigenetic modulation of COMT.
PMCID: PMC3663896  PMID: 22391769
COMT; Metabolic Syndrome; Methylation; Schizophrenia; Activity; Genotype
18.  Departure from multiplicative interaction for catechol-O-methyltransferase genotype and active/passive exposure to tobacco smoke among women with breast cancer 
Women with homozygous polymorphic alleles of catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT-LL) metabolize 2-hydroxylated estradiol, a suspected anticarcinogenic metabolite of estrogen, at a four-fold lower rate than women with no polymorphic alleles (COMT-HH) or heterozygous women (COMT-HL). We hypothesized that COMT-LL women exposed actively or passively to tobacco smoke would have higher exposure to 2-hydroxylated estradiol than never-active/never passive exposed women, and should therefore have a lower risk of breast cancer than women exposed to tobacco smoke or with higher COMT activity.
We used a case-only design to evaluate departure from multiplicative interaction between COMT genotype and smoking status. We identified 502 cases of invasive incident breast cancer and characterized COMT genotype. Information on tobacco use and other potential breast cancer risk factors were obtained by structured interviews.
We observed moderate departure from multiplicative interaction for COMT-HL genotype and history of ever-active smoking (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 1.6, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.7, 3.8) and more pronounced departure for women who smoked 40 or more years (aOR = 2.3, 95% CI: 0.8, 7.0). We observed considerable departure from multiplicative interaction for COMT-HL genotype and history of ever-passive smoking (aOR = 2.0, 95% CI: 0.8, 5.2) or for having lived with a smoker after age 20 (aOR = 2.8, 95% CI: 0.8, 10).
With greater control over potential misclassification errors and a large case-only population, we found evidence to support an interaction between COMT genotype and tobacco smoke exposure in breast cancer etiology.
PMCID: PMC1373621  PMID: 16417624
19.  Association between Catechol-O-methyltransferase rs4680 (G > A) polymorphism and lung cancer risk 
Diagnostic Pathology  2014;9(1):192.
The association between the Val158Met polymorphism in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene and lung cancer risk remains controversial and inconclusive. Therefore, the meta-analysis was performed to provide a quality reevaluation of the association between the COMT Val158Met polymorphism and the risk of lung cancer.
Two major public databases (Pubmed and Embase) and several Chinese databases were searched for eligible studies. Pooled odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated to estimate the strength of the association.
Five publications, including six individual studies with a total of 4,043 subjects (1,796 cases and 2,247 controls) regarding the association of COMT Val158Met polymorphism with lung cancer susceptibility were included in this meta-analysis. Overall, pooled analysis indicated that there was no significant association between COMT Val158Met polymorphism and lung cancer susceptibility under all genetic models. Likewise, no association was observed in the stratified analysis by ethnicity and control source, either. However, Val158Met polymorphism was shown to increase lung cancer risk among women (AG vs. GG, OR = 1.190, 95% CI = 1.001–1.422, p = 0.049).
These findings suggested that the COMT l58Val/Met polymorphism confer genetic susceptibility to lung cancer among women. However, no evidence was found for the association with lung cancer risk in ethnicity and smoking status.
Virtual slides
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PMCID: PMC4196007  PMID: 25280560
COMT; Polymorphism; Lung cancer; Meta-analysis
20.  Association of COMT genotypes with S-COMT promoter methylation in growth-discordant monozygotic twins and healthy adults 
BMC Medical Genetics  2011;12:115.
Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) plays a key role in dopamine and estrogen metabolism. Recently, COMT haplotypes rather than the single polymorphism Val158Met have been reported to underlie differences in protein expression by modulating mRNA secondary structure. So far, studies investigating the epigenetic variability of the S-COMT (soluble COMT) promoter region mainly focused on phenotypical aspects, and results have been controversial.
We assessed S-COMT promoter methylation in saliva and blood derived DNA with regard to early pre- and postnatal growth as well as to genotype for polymorphisms rs6269, rs4633, and rs4680 (Val158Met) in 20 monozygotic twin pairs (mean age 4 years), who were discordant for intrauterine development due to severe feto-fetal-transfusion syndrome. Methylation levels of two previously reported partially methylated cytosines were determined by the quantitative SIRPH (SNuPE- IP RP HPLC) assay.
Overall, we observed a high variability of S-COMT promoter methylation, which did not correlate with individual differences in the pre- or postnatal growth pattern. Within the twin pairs however we noted a distinct similarity that could be linked to underlying COMT genotypes. This association was subsequently confirmed in a cohort of 93 unrelated adult controls. Interestingly, 158Val-alleles were found at both ends of the epigenotypical range, which is in accordance with a recently proposed model of COMT haplotypes corresponding to a continuum of phenotypical variability.
The strong heritable component of S-COMT promoter methylation found in our study needs to be considered in future approaches that focus on interactions between COMT epigenotype and phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3270002  PMID: 21884617
21.  Phylogenetic, Molecular, and Biochemical Characterization of Caffeic Acid o-Methyltransferase Gene Family in Brachypodium distachyon 
Caffeic acid o-methyltransferase (COMT) is one of the important enzymes controlling lignin monomer production in plant cell wall synthesis. Analysis of the genome sequence of the new grass model Brachypodium distachyon identified four COMT gene homologs, designated as BdCOMT1, BdCOMT2, BdCOMT3, and BdCOMT4. Phylogenetic analysis suggested that they belong to the COMT gene family, whereas syntenic analysis through comparisons with rice and sorghum revealed that BdCOMT4 on Chromosome 3 is the orthologous copy of the COMT genes well characterized in other grass species. The other three COMT genes are unique to Brachypodium since orthologous copies are not found in the collinear regions of rice and sorghum genomes. Expression studies indicated that all four Brachypodium COMT genes are transcribed but with distinct patterns of tissue specificity. Full-length cDNAs were cloned in frame into the pQE-T7 expression vector for the purification of recombinant Brachypodium COMT proteins. Biochemical characterization of enzyme activity and substrate specificity showed that BdCOMT4 has significant effect on a broad range of substrates with the highest preference for caffeic acid. The other three COMTs had low or no effect on these substrates, suggesting that a diversified evolution occurred on these duplicate genes that not only impacted their pattern of expression, but also altered their biochemical properties.
PMCID: PMC3562662  PMID: 23431288
22.  Catechol-O-methyltransferase: characteristics, polymorphisms and role in breast cancer 
Catechol estrogens are carcinogenic, probably because of their estrogenicity and potential for further oxidative metabolism to reactive quinones. Estrogenic quinones cause oxidative DNA damage as well as form mutagenic depurinating adenine and guanine adducts. O-Methylation by catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) blocks their estrogenicity and prevents their oxidation to quinones. A single gene encodes both membrane bound (MB) and soluble (S) forms of COMT. The COMT gene contains 34 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The valine108 (S-COMT)/158 (MB-COMT) SNP encodes a low activity form of COMT and has been widely studied as a putative risk factor for breast cancer, with inconsistent results. Investigations of two other SNPs in the promoter of MB-COMT that may affect its expression have also provided mixed results. Future studies on the role of COMT in breast cancer should incorporate measurement of biomarkers that reflect COMT activity and its protective effects.
PMCID: PMC3665426  PMID: 23734165
23.  Comt1 Genotype and Expression Predicts Anxiety and Nociceptive Sensitivity in Inbred Strains of Mice 
Genes, brain, and behavior  2010;9(8):933-946.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is an ubiquitously expressed enzyme that maintains basic biologic functions by inactivating catechol substrates. In humans, polymorphic variance at the COMT locus has been associated with modulation of pain sensitivity (Andersen & Skorpen, 2009) and risk for developing psychiatric disorders (Harrison & Tunbridge, 2008). A functional haplotype associated with increased pain sensitivity was shown to result in decreased COMT activity by altering mRNA secondary structure-dependent protein translation (Nackley et al., 2006). However, the exact mechanisms whereby COMT modulates pain sensitivity and behavior remain unclear and can be further studied in animal models. We have assessed Comt1 gene expression levels in multiple brain regions in inbred strains of mice and have discovered that Comt1 is differentially expressed among the strains, and this differential expression is cis-regulated. A B2 Short Interspersed Element (SINE) was inserted in the 3′UTR of Comt1 in 14 strains generating a common haplotype that correlates with gene expression. Experiments using mammalian expression vectors of full-length cDNA clones with and without the SINE element demonstrate that strains with the SINE haplotype (+SINE) have greater Comt1 enzymatic activity. +SINE mice also exhibit behavioral differences in anxiety assays and decreased pain sensitivity. These results suggest that a haplotype, defined by a 3′ UTR B2 SINE element, regulates Comt1 expression and some mouse behaviors.
PMCID: PMC2975805  PMID: 20659173
24.  Disruptive mRNA folding increases translational efficiency of catechol-O-methyltransferase variant 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(14):6201-6212.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is a major enzyme controlling catecholamine levels that plays a central role in cognition, affective mood and pain perception. There are three common COMT haplotypes in the human population reported to have functional effects, divergent in two synonymous and one nonsynonymous position. We demonstrate that one of the haplotypes, carrying the non-synonymous variation known to code for a less stable protein, exhibits increased protein expression in vitro. This increased protein expression, which would compensate for lower protein stability, is solely produced by a synonymous variation (C166T) situated within the haplotype and located in the 5′ region of the RNA transcript. Based on mRNA secondary structure predictions, we suggest that structural destabilization near the start codon caused by the T allele could be related to the observed increase in COMT expression. Our folding simulations of the tertiary mRNA structures demonstrate that destabilization by the T allele lowers the folding transition barrier, thus decreasing the probability of occupying its native state. These data suggest a novel structural mechanism whereby functional synonymous variations near the translation initiation codon affect the translation efficiency via entropy-driven changes in mRNA dynamics and present another example of stable compensatory genetic variations in the human population.
PMCID: PMC3152328  PMID: 21486747
25.  Protein Engineering of Toluene Monooxygenases for Synthesis of Chiral Sulfoxides▿  
Enantiopure sulfoxides are valuable asymmetric starting materials and are important chiral auxiliaries in organic synthesis. Toluene monooxygenases (TMOs) have been shown previously to catalyze regioselective hydroxylation of substituted benzenes and phenols. Here we show that TMOs are also capable of performing enantioselective oxidation reactions of aromatic sulfides. Mutagenesis of position V106 in the α-hydroxylase subunit of toluene ortho-monooxygenase (TOM) of Burkholderia cepacia G4 and the analogous position I100 in toluene 4-monooxygenase (T4MO) of Pseudomonas mendocina KR1 improved both rate and enantioselectivity. Variant TomA3 V106M of TOM oxidized methyl phenyl sulfide to the corresponding sulfoxide at a rate of 3.0 nmol/min/mg protein compared with 1.6 for the wild-type enzyme, and the enantiomeric excess (pro-S) increased from 51% for the wild type to 88% for this mutant. Similarly, T4MO variant TmoA I100G increased the wild-type oxidation rate by 1.7-fold, and the enantiomeric excess rose from 86% to 98% (pro-S). Both wild-type enzymes showed lower activity with methyl para-tolyl sulfide as a substrate, but the improvement in the activity and enantioselectivity of the mutants was more dramatic. For example, T4MO variant TmoA I100G oxidized methyl para-tolyl sulfide 11 times faster than the wild type did and changed the selectivity from 41% pro-R to 77% pro-S. A correlation between regioselectivity and enantioselectivity was shown for TMOs studied in this work. Using in silico homology modeling, it is shown that residue I100 in T4MO aids in steering the substrate into the active site at the end of the long entrance channel. It is further hypothesized that the main function of V106 in TOM is the proper positioning or docking of the substrate with respect to the diiron atoms. The results from this work suggest that when the substrate is not aligned correctly in the active site, the oxidation rate is decreased and enantioselectivity is impaired, resulting in products with both chiral configurations.
PMCID: PMC2258606  PMID: 18192418

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