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1.  Associations of Cigarette Smoking and Polymorphisms in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Catechol-O-Methyltransferase with Neurocognition in Alcohol Dependent Individuals during Early Abstinence 
Chronic cigarette smoking and polymorphisms in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) are associated with neurocognition in normal controls and those with various neuropsychiatric conditions. The influence of BDNF and COMT on neurocognition in alcohol dependence is unclear. The primary goal of this report was to investigate the associations of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in BDNF Val66Met (rs6265) and COMT Val158Met (rs4680) with neurocognition in a treatment-seeking alcohol dependent cohort and determine if neurocognitive differences between non-smokers and smokers previously observed in this cohort persist when controlled for these functional SNPs. Genotyping was conducted on 70 primarily male treatment-seeking alcohol dependent participants (ALC) who completed a comprehensive neuropsychological battery after 33 ± 9 days of monitored abstinence. After controlling for COMT and BDNF genotypes, smoking ALC performed significantly worse than non-smoking ALC on the domains of auditory-verbal and visuospatial learning and memory, cognitive efficiency, general intelligence, processing speed, and global neurocognition. In smoking ALC, greater number of years of smoking over lifetime was related to poorer performance on multiple domains after controlling for genotypes and alcohol consumption. In addition, COMT Met homozygotes were superior to Val homozygotes on measures of executive skills and showed trends for higher general intelligence and visuospatial skills, while COMT Val/Met heterozygotes showed significantly better general intelligence than Val homozygotes. COMT Val homozygotes performed better than heterozygotes on auditory-verbal memory. BDNF genotype was not related to any neurocognitive domain. The findings are consistent with studies in normal controls and neuropsychiatric cohorts that reported COMT Met carriers demonstrated better performance on measures of executive skills and general intelligence. Results also indicated that the poorer performance of smoking compared to non-smoking ALC across multiple neurocognitive domains was not mediated by COMT or BDNF genotype. Overall, the findings lend support to the expanding clinical movement to make smoking cessation programs available to smokers at the inception of treatment for alcohol/substance use disorders.
PMCID: PMC3469037  PMID: 23087644
cigarette smoking; brain-derived neurotrophic factor; catechol-O-methyltransferase; neurocognition; alcohol dependence
2.  Human Aging Magnifies Genetic Effects on Executive Functioning and Working Memory 
We demonstrate that common genetic polymorphisms contribute to the increasing heterogeneity of cognitive functioning in old age. We assess two common Val/Met polymorphisms, one affecting the Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) enzyme, which degrades dopamine (DA) in prefrontal cortex (PFC), and the other influencing the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) protein. In two tasks (Wisconsin Card Sorting and spatial working memory), we find that effects of COMT genotype on cognitive performance are magnified in old age and modulated by BDNF genotype. Older COMT Val homozygotes showed particularly low levels of performance if they were also BDNF Met carriers. The age-associated magnification of COMT gene effects provides novel information on the inverted U-shaped relation linking dopaminergic neuromodulation in PFC to cognitive performance. The modulation of COMT effects by BDNF extends recent evidence of close interactions between frontal and medial-temporal circuitries in executive functioning and working memory.
PMCID: PMC2525971  PMID: 18958202
genes; dopamine; executive functions; prefrontal cortex; aging
3.  Executive functions and selective attention are favored in middle-aged healthy women carriers of the Val/Val genotype of the catechol-o-methyltransferase gene: a behavioral genetic study 
Cognitive deficits such as poor memory, the inability to concentrate, deficits in abstract reasoning, attention and set-shifting flexibility have been reported in middle-aged women. It has been suggested that cognitive decline may be due to several factors which include hormonal changes, individual differences, normal processes of aging and age-related changes in dopaminergic neurotransmission. Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), a common functional polymorphism, has been related to executive performance in young healthy volunteers, old subjects and schizophrenia patients. The effect of this polymorphism on cognitive function in middle-aged healthy women is not well known. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether measures of executive function, sustained attention, selective attention and verbal fluency would be different depending on the COMT genotype and task demand.
We genotyped 74 middle-aged healthy women (48 to 65 years old) for the COMT Val158Met polymorphism. We analyzed the effects of this polymorphism on executive functions (Wisconsin Card Sorting Test), selective attention (Stroop test), sustained attention (Continuous Performance Test) and word generation (Verbal Fluency test), which are cognitive functions that involve the frontal lobe.
There were 27 women with the Val/Val COMT genotype, 15 with the Met/Met genotype, and 32 with the Val/Met genotype. Women carriers of the Val/Val genotype performed better in executive functions, as indicated by a lower number of errors committed in comparison with the Met/Met or Val/Met groups. The correct responses on selective attention were higher in the Val/Val group, and the number of errors committed was higher in the Met/Met group during the incongruence trial in comparison with the Val/Val group. Performance on sustained attention and the number of words generated did not show significant differences between the three genotypes.
These findings indicate that middle-aged women carriers of the Val158 allele, associated with high-activity COMT, showed significant advantage over Met allele in executive processes and cognitive flexibility. These results may help to explain, at least in part, individual differences in cognitive decline in middle-aged women with dopamine-related genes.
PMCID: PMC2987980  PMID: 21029471
4.  Genetic and Vascular Modifiers of Age-Sensitive Cognitive Skills: Effects of COMT, BDNF, ApoE and Hypertension 
Neuropsychology  2009;23(1):105-116.
Cognitive phenotypes emerge from multiple genetic and environmental influences. Several single nucleotide polymorphisms have been linked to neural and cognitive variation in healthy adults. We examined contribution of three polymorphisms frequently associated with individual differences in cognition (Catechol-O-Methyl-Transferase Val158Met, Brain-Derived-Neurotrophic-Factor Val66Met, and Apolipoprotein E ɛ4) and a vascular risk factor (hypertension) as well as their interactions in a sample of 189 volunteers (age 18–82). Genotypes were determined from buccal culture samples, and cognitive performance was assessed in four age-sensitive domains – fluid intelligence, executive function (inhibition), associative memory, and processing speed. We found that younger age and COMT Met/Met genotype, associated with low COMT activity and higher prefrontal dopamine content, were independently linked to better performance in most of the tested domains. Homozygotes for Val allele of BDNF polymorphism exhibited better associative memory and faster speed of processing than the Met allele carriers, with greater effect for women and persons with hypertension. Carriers of ApoE ɛ4 allele evidenced steeper age-related increase in costs of Stroop color interference, but showed no negative effects on memory. The findings indicate that age-related cognitive differences in multiple domains are differentially affected by distinct genetic factors and their interactions with vascular health status.
PMCID: PMC2729285  PMID: 19210038
aging; genetics; cognition; COMT; BDNF; APOE; vascular risk; memory; fluid intelligence; single nucleotide polymorphisms; genetic association; speed of processing
5.  Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) influences the connectivity of the prefrontal cortex at rest 
Neuroimage  2013;68(C):49-54.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) modulates dopamine in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and influences PFC dopamine-dependent cognitive task performance. A human COMT polymorphism (Val158Met) alters enzyme activity and is associated with both the activation and functional connectivity of the PFC during task performance, particularly working memory. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and a data-driven, independent components analysis (ICA) approach to compare resting state functional connectivity within the executive control network (ECN) between young, male COMT Val158 (n = 27) and Met158 (n = 28) homozygotes. COMT genotype effects on grey matter were assessed using voxel-based morphometry. COMT genotype significantly modulated functional connectivity within the ECN, which included the head of the caudate, and anterior cingulate and frontal cortical regions. Val158 homozygotes showed greater functional connectivity between a cluster within the left ventrolateral PFC and the rest of the ECN (using a threshold of Z > 2.3 and a family-wise error cluster significance level of p < 0.05). This difference occurred in the absence of any alterations in grey matter. Our data show that COMT Val158Met affects the functional connectivity of the PFC at rest, complementing its prominent role in the activation and functional connectivity of this region during cognitive task performance. The results suggest that genotype-related differences in prefrontal dopaminergic tone result in neuroadaptive changes in basal functional connectivity, potentially including subtle COMT genotype-dependent differences in the relative coupling of task-positive and task-negative regions, which could in turn contribute to its effects on brain activation, connectivity, and behaviour.
► We studied the impact of COMT Val158Met genotype on resting state connectivity. ► We compared resting state functional connectivity in Val/Val vs. Met/Met men. ► We focussed on the predominantly prefrontal (PFC) executive control network (ECN). ► The ECN was identified using a group ICA approach. ► We found greater resting PFC functional connectivity in Val/Val vs. Met/Met men.
PMCID: PMC3566589  PMID: 23228511
Resting state network; Dopamine; Working memory; Prefrontal cortex; Polymorphism; fMRI
Neuro-Oncology  2014;16(Suppl 5):v134.
BACKGROUND: Cognitive dysfunction is prevalen among brain tumor patients treated with radiotherapy (RT) and chemotherapy (CT). However, little is known about genetic risk factors that may moderate their vulnerability for developing cognitive impairment. In this study, we examined the association of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in three genes, Catechol-O-Methyl-Transferase (COMT), Brain-Derived-Neurotrophic-Factor (BDNF), and dystrobrevin binding protein 1 (DTNBP1), and cognitive functions in brain tumor survivors. METHODS: One hundred and fifty brain tumor patients participated in the study: ninety had been treated with RT ± CT, fifty-seven had CT alone, and three had no therapy. All Patients completed a battery of neuropsychological tests of attention, executive functions and memory, and provided a blood sample. Genotyping of SNPs in the BDNF (n = 9), COMT (n = 17) and DTNBP1 (n = 7) genes was performed. RESULTS: Linear regressions with stepwise backward elimination of SNPs based on change in AIC criterion, adjusting for age, education, and treatment type indicated a significant (p< 0.05) association between the COMT SNP rs4680 (Val158Met) and cognitive function, with lower working memory scores in homozygotes (G/G) and higher executive function and delayed recall scores in heterozygotes (A/G). Five additional SNPs in the COMT gene were significantly associated with lower scores in attention and executive functions. There were significant associations among five SNPs in the BDNF gene and lower performance in executive function, learning and delayed recall. Four SNPs in the DTNBP1 gene were associated with attention and memory scores. CONCLUSION: The findings suggest that in brain tumor patients, cognitive outcome may be differentially affected by polymorphisms in genes previously associated with executive and memory functions in healthy individuals and other clinical populations. Further work is underway to quantify the variation in cognitive outcomes explained by these polymorphisms.
PMCID: PMC4218327
7.  Catechol-O-Methyltransferase Val158Met Polymorphism on the Relationship between White Matter Hyperintensity and Cognition in Healthy People 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88749.
White matter lesions can be easily observed on T2-weighted MR images, and are termed white matter hyperintensities (WMH). Their presence may be correlated with cognitive impairment; however, the relationship between regional WMH volume and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met polymorphism in healthy populations remains unclear.
We recruited 315 ethnic Chinese adults with a mean age of 54.9±21.8 years (range: 21–89 y) to examine the genetic effect of COMT on regional WMH and the manner in which they interact to affect cognitive function in a healthy adult population. Cognitive tests, structural MRI scans, and genotyping of COMT were conducted for each participant.
Negative correlations between the Digit Span Forward (DSF) score and frontal WMH volumes (r = −.123, P = .032, uncorrected) were noted. For the genetic effect of COMT, no significant difference in cognitive performance was observed among 3 genotypic groups. However, differences in WMH volumes over the subcortical region (P = .016, uncorrected), whole brain (P = .047, uncorrected), and a trend over the frontal region (P = .050, uncorrected) were observed among 3 COMT genotypic groups. Met homozygotes and Met/Val heterozygotes exhibited larger WMH volumes in these brain regions than the Val homozygotes. Furthermore, a correlation between the DSF and regional WMH volume was observed only in Met homozygotes. The effect size (cohen’s f) revealed a small effect.
The results indicate that COMT might modulate WMH volumes and the effects of WMH on cognition.
PMCID: PMC3923794  PMID: 24551149
8.  The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) val66met polymorphism differentially affects performance on subscales of the Wechsler Memory Scale – Third Edition (WMS-III) 
Frontiers in Psychology  2015;6:1212.
Single nucleotide polymorphisms in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene and the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene influence brain structure and function, as well as cognitive abilities. They are most influential in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC), respectively. Recall and recognition are forms of memory proposed to have different neural substrates, with recall having a greater dependence on the PFC and hippocampus. This study aimed to determine whether the BDNF val66met or COMT val158met polymorphisms differentially affect recall and recognition, and whether these polymorphisms interact. A sample of 100 healthy adults was assessed on recall and familiarity-based recognition using the Faces and Family Pictures subscales of the Wechsler Memory Scale – Third Edition (WMS-III). COMT genotype did not affect performance on either task. The BDNF polymorphism (i.e., met carriers relative to val homozygotes) was associated with poorer recall ability, while not influencing recognition. Combining subscale scores in memory tests such as the WMS might obscure gene effects. Our results demonstrate the importance of distinguishing between recall and familiarity-based recognition in neurogenetics research.
PMCID: PMC4538220  PMID: 26347681
neurogenetics; BDNF; memory; recall; recognition
9.  Age-Related Olfactory Decline is Associated with the BDNF Val66met Polymorphism: Evidence from a Population-Based Study 
The present study investigates the effect of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) val66met polymorphism on change in olfactory function in a large scale, longitudinal population-based sample (n = 836). The subjects were tested on a 13 item force-choice odor identification test on two test occasions over a 5-year-interval. Sex, education, health-related factors, and semantic ability were controlled for in the statistical analyses. Results showed an interaction effect of age and BDNF val66met on olfactory change, such that the magnitude of olfactory decline in the older age cohort (70–90 years old at baseline) was larger for the val homozygote carriers than for the met carriers. The older met carriers did not display larger age-related decline in olfactory function compared to the younger group. The BDNF val66met polymorphism did not affect the rate of decline in the younger age cohort (45–65 years). The findings are discussed in the light of the proposed roles of BDNF in neural development and maintenance.
PMCID: PMC2893376  PMID: 20589104
brain-derived neurotrophic factor; val66met; olfaction; odor identification; aging
10.  Does COMT genotype influence the effects of d-amphetamine on executive functioning? 
Genes, brain, and behavior  2012;12(1):13-20.
In a widely cited study, Mattay et al. (2003) reported that amphetamine (0.25 mg/kg oral, or 17mg for a 68kg individual) impaired behavioral and brain indices of executive functioning, measured using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST) and N-Back working memory task, in 6 individuals homozygous for the met allele of the val158met polymorphism in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, whereas it improved executive functioning in 10 individuals homozygous for the more active val allele. We attempted to replicate their behavioral findings in a larger sample, using similar executive functioning tasks and a broader range of amphetamine doses. Over four sessions, n = 200 healthy normal adults received oral placebo, d-amphetamine 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg (average of 0.07, 0.15 and 0.29 mg/kg), under counterbalanced double-blind conditions, and completed WCST and N-back tests of executive functioning. Amphetamine had typical effects on blood pressure and processing speed but did not affect executive functioning. COMT genotype (val158met) was not related to executive functioning under placebo or amphetamine conditions, even when we compared only the homozygous val/val and met/met genotypes at the highest dose of amphetamine (20 mg). Thus, we were not able to replicate the behavioral interaction between COMT and amphetamine seen in Mattay et al. (Mattay et al., 2003). We discuss possible differences between the studies and the implications of our findings for the use of COMT genotyping to predict clinical responses to dopaminergic drugs, and the use of intermediate phenotypes in genetic research.
PMCID: PMC3553317  PMID: 23231539
COMT genotype; executive functioning; working memory; d-amphetamine; genetics; stimulant response
11.  COMT Val158Met Genotype and Individual Differences in Executive Function in Healthy Adults 
The Val158Met polymorphism of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene may be related to individual differences in cognition, likely via modulation of prefrontal dopamine catabolism. However, the available studies have yielded mixed results, possibly in part because they do not consistently account for other genes that affect cognition. We hypothesized that COMT Met allele homozygosity, which is associated with higher levels of prefrontal dopamine, would predict better executive function as measured using standard neuropsychological testing, and that other candidate genes might interact with COMT to modulate this effect. Participants were 95 healthy, right-handed adults who underwent genotyping and cognitive testing. COMT genotype predicted executive ability as measured by the Trail-Making Test, even after covarying for demographics and APOE, BDNF and ANKK1 genotype. There was a COMT-ANKK1 interaction in which individuals having both the COMT Val allele and the ANKK1 T allele showed the poorest performance. This study suggests the heterogeneity in COMT effects reported in the literature may be due in part to gene-gene interactions that influence central dopaminergic systems.
PMCID: PMC3114452  PMID: 21144101
cognition; neuropsychological tests; executive control; catechol-O-methyltransferase; polymorphism; epistasis
12.  Catechol-O-Methyltransferase Val158Met Polymorphism Associates with Individual Differences in Sleep Physiologic Responses to Chronic Sleep Loss 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e29283.
The COMT Val158Met polymorphism modulates cortical dopaminergic catabolism, and predicts individual differences in prefrontal executive functioning in healthy adults and schizophrenic patients, and associates with EEG differences during sleep loss. We assessed whether the COMT Val158Met polymorphism was a novel marker in healthy adults of differential vulnerability to chronic partial sleep deprivation (PSD), a condition distinct from total sleep loss and one experienced by millions on a daily and persistent basis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
20 Met/Met, 64 Val/Met, and 45 Val/Val subjects participated in a protocol of two baseline 10h time in bed (TIB) nights followed by five consecutive 4 h TIB nights. Met/Met subjects showed differentially steeper declines in non-REM EEG slow-wave energy (SWE)—the putative homeostatic marker of sleep drive—during PSD, despite comparable baseline SWE declines. Val/Val subjects showed differentially smaller increases in slow-wave sleep and smaller reductions in stage 2 sleep during PSD, and had more stage 1 sleep across nights and a shorter baseline REM sleep latency. The genotypes, however, did not differ in performance across various executive function and cognitive tasks and showed comparable increases in subjective and physiological sleepiness in response to chronic sleep loss. Met/Met genotypic and Met allelic frequencies were higher in whites than African Americans.
The COMT Val158Met polymorphism may be a genetic biomarker for predicting individual differences in sleep physiology—but not in cognitive and executive functioning—resulting from sleep loss in a healthy, racially-diverse adult population of men and women. Beyond healthy sleepers, our results may also provide insight for predicting sleep loss responses in patients with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders, since these groups repeatedly experience chronically-curtailed sleep and demonstrate COMT-related treatment responses and risk factors for symptom exacerbation.
PMCID: PMC3246458  PMID: 22216231
13.  Association of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Gene Val66Met Polymorphism with Primary Dysmenorrhea 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e112766.
Primary dysmenorrhea (PDM), the most prevalent menstrual cycle-related problem in women of reproductive age, is associated with negative moods. Whether the menstrual pain and negative moods have a genetic basis remains unknown. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays a key role in the production of central sensitization and contributes to chronic pain conditions. BDNF has also been implicated in stress-related mood disorders. We screened and genotyped the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism (rs6265) in 99 Taiwanese (Asian) PDMs (20–30 years old) and 101 age-matched healthy female controls. We found that there was a significantly higher frequency of the Met allele of the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism in the PDM group. Furthermore, BDNF Met/Met homozygosity had a significantly stronger association with PDM compared with Val carrier status. Subsequent behavioral/hormonal assessments of sub-groups (PDMs = 78, controls = 81; eligible for longitudinal multimodal neuroimaging battery studies) revealed that the BDNF Met/Met homozygous PDMs exhibited a higher menstrual pain score (sensory dimension) and a more anxious mood than the Val carrier PDMs during the menstrual phase. Although preliminary, our study suggests that the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism is associated with PDM in Taiwanese (Asian) people, and BDNF Met/Met homozygosity may be associated with an increased risk of PDM. Our data also suggest the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism as a possible regulator of menstrual pain and pain-related emotions in PDM. Absence of thermal hypersensitivity may connote an ethnic attribution. The presentation of our findings calls for further genetic and neuroscientific investigations of PDM.
PMCID: PMC4226574  PMID: 25383981
14.  Association between the Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met Polymorphism and Manual Aiming Control in Healthy Subjects 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99698.
Prefrontal dopamine is catabolized by the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) enzyme. Current evidence suggests that the val/met single nucleotide polymorphism in the COMT gene can predict the efficiency of executive cognition in humans. Individuals carrying the val allele perform more poorly because less synaptic dopamine is available.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We investigated the influence of the COMT polymorphism on motor performance in a task that requires different executive functions. We administered a manual aiming motor task that was performed under four different conditions of execution by 111 healthy participants. Participants were grouped according to genotype (met/met, met/val, val/val), and the motor performance among groups was compared. Overall, the results indicate that met/met carriers presented lower levels of peak velocity during the movement trajectory than the val carriers, but met/met carriers displayed higher accuracy than the val carriers.
This study found a significant association between the COMT polymorphism and manual aiming control. Few studies have investigated the genetics of motor control, and these findings indicate that individual differences in motor control require further investigation using genetic studies.
PMCID: PMC4067272  PMID: 24956262
15.  BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism Influences Age Differences in Microstructure of the Corpus Callosum 
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in neuroplasticity and promotes axonal growth, but its secretion, regulated by a BDNF gene, declines with age. The low-activity (met) allele of common polymorphism BDNF val66met is associated with reduced production of BDNF. We examined whether age-related reduction in the integrity of cerebral white matter (WM) depends on the BDNF val66met genotype. Forty-one middle-aged and older adults participated in the study. Regional WM integrity was assessed by fractional anisotropy (FA) computed from manually drawn regions of interest in the genu and splenium of the corpus callosum on diffusion tensor imaging scans. After controlling for effects of sex and hypertension, we found that only the BDNF 66met carriers displayed age-related declines in the splenium FA, whereas no age-related declines were shown by BDNF val homozygotes. No genotype-related differences were observed in the genu of the corpus callosum. This finding is consistent with a view that genetic risk for reduced BDNF affects posterior regions that otherwise are considered relatively insensitive to normal aging. Those individuals with a genetic predisposition for decreased BDNF expression may not be able to fully benefit from BDNF-based plasticity and repair mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC2737488  PMID: 19738930
brain; diffusion tensor imaging; genetics; MRI; white matter; aging; brain-derived neurotrophic factor; single nucleotide polymorphism
16.  Effects of BDNF Polymorphisms on Antidepressant Action 
Psychiatry Investigation  2010;7(4):236-242.
Evidence suggests that the down-regulation of the signaling pathway involving brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a molecular element known to regulate neuronal plasticity and survival, plays an important role in the pathogenesis of major depression. The restoration of BDNF activity induced by antidepressant treatment has been implicated in the antidepressant therapeutic mechanism. Because there is variability among patients with major depressive disorder in terms of response to antidepressant treatment and since genetic factors may contribute to this inter-individual variability in antidepressant response, pharmacogenetic studies have tested the associations between genetic polymorphisms in candidate genes related to antidepressant therapeutic action. In human BDNF gene, there is a common functional polymorphism (Val66Met) in the pro-region of BDNF, which affects the intracellular trafficking of proBDNF. Because of the potentially important role of BDNF in the antidepressant mechanism, many pharmacogenetic studies have tested the association between this polymorphism and the antidepressant therapeutic response, but they have produced inconsistent results. A recent meta-analysis of eight studies, which included data from 1,115 subjects, suggested that the Val/Met carriers have increased antidepressant response in comparison to Val/Val homozygotes, particularly in the Asian population. The positive molecular heterosis effect (subjects heterozygous for a specific genetic polymorphism show a significantly greater effect) is compatible with animal studies showing that, although BDNF exerts an antidepressant effect, too much BDNF may have a detrimental effect on mood. Several recommendations are proposed for future antidepressant pharmacogenetic studies of BDNF, including the consideration of multiple polymorphisms and a haplotype approach, gene-gene interaction, a single antidepressant regimen, controlling for age and gender interactions, and pharmacogenetic effects on specific depressive symptom-clusters.
PMCID: PMC3022309  PMID: 21253406
Major depression; Antidepressant; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Polymorphisms
17.  Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor Is Associated with Cognitive Impairment in Elderly Korean Individuals 
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophin that is widely expressed in the mammalian brain and acts to regulate neuronal survival and influence cognitive processes. The present study measured serum BDNF levels to investigate the associations of the BDNF Val66Met and 5-hydroxytryptamine transporter linked promoter region (5-HTTLPR) polymorphisms with cognitive function in elderly Korean individuals.
Over 60 years, a total of 834 subjects were recruited for the present study. The subjects were classified into groups based on the degree of cognitive impairment (age-associated cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease) and compared with normal controls in terms of a neuropsychological assessment and a clinical evaluation.
Of the initial 834 study participants, 165 (59 controls and 106 subjects with cognitive impairments) completed the study. There was a significant increase in serum BDNF levels in subjects with cognitive impairments relative to the control group and the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism was significantly associated with cognitive function but not serum BDNF levels. The 5-HTTLPR polymorphism did not have any associations with cognitive impairment or serum BDNF levels.
The present findings suggest that BDNF may play a role in the pathophysiology of cognitive impairment and the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism may be an important factor in the susceptibility to these age-related deficits.
PMCID: PMC4662173  PMID: 26598587
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Dementia; Cognition; Genetic polymorphism
18.  COMT and Cognition: Main Effects and Interaction with Educational Attainment 
Genes, brain, and behavior  2008;8(1):36-42.
Studies in children have shown that the genetic influence on cognition is positively correlated with socioeconomic status. COMT Val158Met, a common, functional polymorphism, has been implicated in executive cognition and working memory. Imaging studies have shown that the variant Met allele is associated with more efficient pre-frontal cortical processing and better attention but also emotional vulnerability to stress. We hypothesized that COMT Val158Met genotype would interact with years of education (yrs ed), one indicator of socioeconomic adversity, to predict cognitive task performance. We therefore administered the WAIS-R to 328 community-derived, genotyped, Plains American Indians (mean yrs ed = 12; range = 5 to 18). We found significant genotypic effects on WAIS-R measures of long-term memory, working memory and attention. The Met allele was associated with improved performance in the Information and Picture Completion subscales; Met/Met homozygotes performed the best. COMT genotype interacted with yrs ed to influence Information and Block Design scores: Met allele carriers' scores improved markedly with increasing yrs ed whereas the scores of Val/Val individuals were only marginally influenced by yrs ed. There was a crossover of effects at 11-12 yrs ed: in the less educated group, Met allele carriers actually performed worse than Val/Val individuals perhaps due to emotional vulnerability to educational adversity, but in the better educated group, Met allele carriers excelled. Our study in Plains American Indians has shown that COMT Val158Met influences several aspects of cognition and some of its effects are moderated by educational adversity.
PMCID: PMC2693269  PMID: 19076243
working memory; long-term memory; attention; WAIS-R; COMT Val158Met; education; resilience; anxiety
19.  The Roles of COMT val158met Status and Aviation Expertise in Flight Simulator Performance and Cognitive Ability 
Behavior genetics  2010;41(5):700-708.
The polymorphic variation in the val158met position of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene is associated with differences in executive performance, processing speed, and attention. The purpose of this study is: (1) replicate previous COMT val158met findings on cognitive performance; (2) determine whether COMT val158met effects extend to a real-world task, aircraft navigation performance in a flight simulator; and (3) determine if aviation expertise moderates any effect of COMT val158met status on flight simulator performance. One hundred seventy two pilots aged 41–69 years, who varied in level of aviation training and experience, completed flight simulator, cognitive, and genetic assessments. Results indicate that although no COMT effect was found for an overall measure of flight performance, a positive effect of the met allele was detected for two aspects of cognitive ability: executive functioning and working memory performance. Pilots with the met/met genotype benefited more from increased levels of expertise than other participants on a traffic avoidance measure, which is a component of flight simulator performance. These preliminary results indicate that COMT val158met polymorphic variation can affect a real-world task.
PMCID: PMC3163820  PMID: 21193954
COMT; Flight simulator performance; Cognitive performance; Aviation expertise; Age
20.  Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Val66Met) polymorphism and olfactory ability in young adults 
Brain- derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is linked to neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer disease and Parkinson disease) which are often characterized by olfactory impairment. A specific single nucleotide polymorphism of the BDNF gene, the Val66Met, modulates intracellular trafficking and activity-dependent secretion of BDNF protein. The aim of this study was to investigate a possible association between brain- derived neurotrophic factor Val66Met polymorphism and olfactory function, a well-known biomarker for neurodegeneration, in healthy young adults. A total of 101 subjects (45 males, age 38.7 ± 9.4 years) were assessed using the Sniffin’ Sticks Extended Test, a highly reliable commercial olfactory test composed of three sub-parts, calculating olfactory threshold (sensitivity), odor discrimination and odor identification. The Val66Met polymorphism was determined by polymerase chain reaction -restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) analysis.
An impaired function in Met carriers was found, especially when compared to subjects with Val/Val genotype, in the threshold (5.5 ± 2.0 vs 6.5 ± 1.8, p = 0.009), discrimination (10.3± 2.5 vs 11.9 ± 2.2, p = 0.002), and identification task (13.3 ± 1.6 vs 14.1 ± 1.3, p = 0.007), as well as in the overall TDI Score (29.1 ± 4.5 vs 32.6 ± 3.9, p < 0.001).
These findings appear to have implications for the evaluation of olfactory function and the relation of its impairment to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease.
PMCID: PMC3750534  PMID: 23924085
Olfactory function; Brain - derived neurotrophic factor; Val66Met polymorphism
21.  Affect-Modulated Startle: Interactive Influence of Catechol-O-Methyltransferase Val158Met Genotype and Childhood Trauma 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e39709.
The etiology of emotion-related disorders such as anxiety or affective disorders is considered to be complex with an interaction of biological and environmental factors. Particular evidence has accumulated for alterations in the dopaminergic and noradrenergic system – partly conferred by catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene variation – for the adenosinergic system as well as for early life trauma to constitute risk factors for those conditions. Applying a multi-level approach, in a sample of 95 healthy adults, we investigated effects of the functional COMT Val158Met polymorphism, caffeine as an adenosine A2A receptor antagonist (300 mg in a placebo-controlled intervention design) and childhood maltreatment (CTQ) as well as their interaction on the affect-modulated startle response as a neurobiologically founded defensive reflex potentially related to fear- and distress-related disorders. COMT val/val genotype significantly increased startle magnitude in response to unpleasant stimuli, while met/met homozygotes showed a blunted startle response to aversive pictures. Furthermore, significant gene-environment interaction of COMT Val158Met genotype with CTQ was discerned with more maltreatment being associated with higher startle potentiation in val/val subjects but not in met carriers. No main effect of or interaction effects with caffeine were observed. Results indicate a main as well as a GxE effect of the COMT Val158Met variant and childhood maltreatment on the affect-modulated startle reflex, supporting a complex pathogenetic model of the affect-modulated startle reflex as a basic neurobiological defensive reflex potentially related to anxiety and affective disorders.
PMCID: PMC3382176  PMID: 22745815
22.  Expression and Dendritic Trafficking of BDNF-6 Splice Variant are Impaired in Knock-In Mice Carrying Human BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism 
The human Val66Met polymorphism in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key factor in neuroplasticity, synaptic function, and cognition, has been implicated in the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. BDNF is encoded by multiple transcripts with distinct regulation and localization, but the impact of the Val66Met polymorphism on BDNF regulation remains unclear.
In BDNF Val66Met knock-in mice, which recapitulate the phenotypic hallmarks of individuals carrying the BDNFMet allele, we measured expression levels, epigenetic changes at promoters, and dendritic trafficking of distinct BDNF transcripts using quantitative PCR, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), and in situ hybridization.
BDNF-4 and BDNF-6 transcripts were reduced in BDNFMet/Met mice, compared with BDNFVal/Val mice. ChIP for acetyl-histone H3, a marker of active gene transcription, and trimethyl-histone-H3-Lys27 (H3K27me3), a marker of gene repression, showed higher H3K27me3 binding to exon 5, 6, and 8 promoters in BDNFMet/Met. The H3K27 methyltransferase enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) is involved in epigenetic regulation of BDNF expression, because in neuroblastoma cells BDNF expression was increased both by short interference RNA for EZH2 and incubation with 3-deazaneplanocin A, an inhibitor of EZH2. In situ hybridization for BDNF-2, BDNF-4, and BDNF-6 after pilocarpine treatment showed that BDNF-6 transcript was virtually absent from distal dendrites of the CA1 and CA3 regions in BDNFMet/Met mice, while no changes were found for BDNF-2 and BDNF-4.
Impaired BDNF expression and dendritic targeting in BDNFMet/Met mice may contribute to reduced regulated secretion of BDNF at synapses, and may be a specific correlate of pathology in individuals carrying the Met allele.
PMCID: PMC4675980  PMID: 26108221
BDNF; dendritic trafficking; epigenetics; histone; Val66Met polymorphism
23.  COMT polymorphism modulates the resting-state EEG alpha oscillatory response to acute nicotine in male non-smokers 
Genes, brain, and behavior  2015;14(6):466-476.
Performance improvements in cognitive tasks requiring executive functions are evident with nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonists, and activation of the underlying neural circuitry supporting these cognitive effects is thought to involve dopamine neurotransmission. As individual difference in response to nicotine may be related to a functional polymorphism in the gene encoding catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that strongly influences cortical dopamine metabolism, this study examined the modulatory effects of the COMT Val158Met polymorphism on the neural response to acute nicotine as measured with resting-state electroencephalographic (EEG) oscillations. In a sample of 62 healthy non-smoking adult males, a single dose (6 mg) of nicotine gum administered in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design was shown to affect α oscillatory activity, increasing power of upper α oscillations in frontocentral regions of Met/Met homozygotes and in parietal/occipital regions of Val/Met heterozygotes. Peak α frequency was also found to be faster with nicotine (vs. placebo) treatment in Val/Met heterozygotes, who exhibited a slower α frequency compared to Val/Val homozygotes. The data tentatively suggest that interindividual differences in brain α oscillations and their response to nicotinic agonist treatment are influenced by genetic mechanisms involving COMT.
PMCID: PMC4514526  PMID: 26096691 CAMSID: cams4922
Alpha; catechol-O-methyltransferase; cognition; dopamine; electroencephalography; genotype; nicotine; oscillations; polymorphism; resting state
24.  BDNF Variants, Premorbid Educational Attainment, and Disease Characteristics in Alzheimer’s Disease: An Exploratory Study 
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophin that promotes neuronal survival, growth, and differentiation. The role of BDNF in learning and memory suggests that it may also modulate the clinical course of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This study aimed to determine whether BDNF genetic variants are related to premorbid educational attainment, progression of cognitive and functional decline, and associated neuropsychiatric symptoms in AD patients. A sample of AD subjects (N = 341) was genotyped for the BDNF polymorphisms: Val66Met, C270T, and G-712A. Subjects received tests of cognition and daily function at baseline and at multiple subsequent time points. They were also characterized for the frequency and severity of neuropsychiatric symptoms. There was a significant effect of Val66Met genotype on educational attainment (F = 7.49, df = 2,329, P = 0.00066), with Met/Met homozygotes having significantly lower education than both the Val/Met and Val/Val groups. No association was observed between any BDNF polymorphism and measures of cognitive or functional decline. The T-allele of the C270T polymorphism was associated with a higher prevalence of neuropsychiatric symptoms and specifically with the presence of hallucinations. The effect of the Val66Met polymorphism on premorbid educational attainment is intriguing and should be verified in a larger sample.
PMCID: PMC4084650  PMID: 19542613
Activities of daily living; Alzheimer’s disease; brain-derived neurotrophic factor; cognition; education; single nucleotide polymorphism
25.  COMT Val158Met Polymorphism Modulates Cognitive Effects of Dietary Intervention 
A common single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the gene encoding catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), Val158Met, is thought to influence cognitive performance due to differences in prefrontal dopaminergic neurotransmission. Previous studies lend support for the hypothesis that the “at risk” genotype comprising two Val-alleles (low dopamine) might benefit more from plasticity-enhancing interventions than carriers of one or two Met-alleles. This study aimed to determine whether the response to dietary interventions, known to modulate cognition, is dependent on COMT genotype. Blood samples of 35 healthy elderly subjects (61.3 years ±8 SD; 19 women, 16 men, BMI: 28.2 kg/m2 ±4 SD) were genotyped for COMT Val158Met by standard procedures (Val/Val = 6; Val/Met = 20; Met/Met = 9). Subjects had previously completed a randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of caloric restriction (CR) or enhancement of unsaturated fatty acids (UFA) on immediate and delayed verbal recognition memory. Homozygous Val/Val-carriers had significantly lower memory scores than Met-carriers at baseline (p < 0.001). Significant interactions of genotype and dietary intervention with regard to cognition were found: CR- and UFA enhancement-induced memory improvements of Val/Val-carriers were considerably greater than those of Met-carriers (ANOVA p's < 0.02). The current study shows for the first time that cognitive effects of dietary interventions are dependent on COMT Val158Met genotype. Our findings lend further support to the hypothesis that an “at risk” genotype might benefit more from plasticity-enhancing interventions than the “not at risk” genotype. This might help to develop individualized therapies in future research based on genetic background.
PMCID: PMC2990456  PMID: 21119769
COMT; diet; aging; genetic variation; cognition; memory

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