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.
genes; dopamine; executive functions; prefrontal cortex; aging
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.
cognition; neuropsychological tests; executive control; catechol-O-methyltransferase; polymorphism; epistasis
Dopamine in prefrontal cortex (PFC) modulates core cognitive processes, notably working memory and executive control. Dopamine regulating genes and polymorphisms affecting PFC - including Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met - are crucial to understanding the molecular genetics of cognitive function and dysfunction. A mechanistic account of the COMT Val158Met effect associates the Met allele with increased tonic dopamine transmission underlying maintenance of relevant information, and the Val allele with increased phasic dopamine transmission underlying the flexibility of updating new information. Thus, consistent with some earlier work, we predicted that Val carriers would display poorer performance when the maintenance component was taxed, while Met carriers would be less efficient when rapid updating was required.
Using a Stroop task that manipulated level of required cognitive stability and flexibility, we examined reaction time performance of patients with schizophrenia (n = 67) and healthy controls (n = 186) genotyped for the Val/Met variation.
In both groups we found a Met advantage for tasks requiring cognitive stability, but no COMT effect when a moderate level of cognitive flexibility was required, or when a conflict cost measure was calculated.
Our results do not support a simple stability/flexibility model of dopamine COMT Val/Met effects and suggest a somewhat different conceptualization and experimental operationalization of these cognitive components.
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.
cigarette smoking; brain-derived neurotrophic factor; catechol-O-methyltransferase; neurocognition; alcohol dependence
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.
COMT; Flight simulator performance; Cognitive performance; Aviation expertise; Age
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.
COMT; diet; aging; genetic variation; cognition; memory
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.
aging; genetics; cognition; COMT; BDNF; APOE; vascular risk; memory; fluid intelligence; single nucleotide polymorphisms; genetic association; speed of processing
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) metabolizes dopamine. The COMT Val158Met polymorphism influences its activity, and multiple neural correlates of this genotype on dopaminergic phenotypes, especially working memory, have been reported. COMT activity can also be regulated pharmacologically by COMT inhibitors. The inverted-U relationship between cortical dopamine signaling and working memory predicts that the effects of COMT inhibition will differ according to COMT genotype.
Thirty-four COMT Met158Met (Met-COMT) and 33 COMT Val158Val (Val-COMT) men were given a single 200-mg dose of the brain-penetrant COMT inhibitor tolcapone or placebo in a randomized, double-blind, between-subjects design. They completed the N-back task of working memory and a gambling task.
In the placebo group, Met-COMT subjects outperformed Val-COMT subjects on the 2- back, and they were more risk averse. Tolcapone had opposite effects in the two genotype groups: it worsened N-back performance in Met-COMT subjects but enhanced it in Val-COMT subjects. Tolcapone made Met-COMT subjects less risk averse but Val-COMT subjects more so. In both tasks, tolcapone reversed the baseline genotype differences.
Depending on genotype, COMT inhibition can enhance or impair working memory and increase or decrease risky decision making. To our knowledge, the data are the clearest demonstration to date that the direction of effect of a drug can be influenced by a polymorphism in its target gene. The results support the inverted-U model of dopamine function. The findings are of translational relevance, because COMT inhibitors are used in the adjunctive treatment of Parkinson's disease and are under evaluation in schizophrenia and other disorders.
Catechol-o-methyltransferase; decision making; pharmacogenetics; polymorphism; tolcapone; working memory
Research suggests that the COMT Val158Met, BDNF Val66Met and OPRM1 A118G polymorphisms moderate the experience of pain. In order to obtain experimental confirmation and extension of findings, cortical processing of experimentally-induced pain was used.
A sample of 78 individuals with chronic low back pain complaints and 37 healthy controls underwent EEG registration. Event-Related Potentials were measured in response to electrical nociceptive stimuli and moderation by COMT Val158Met, BDNF Val66Met and OPRM1 A118G polymorphisms was assessed.
Genetic variation did not have a direct effect on cortical processing of experimental pain. However, genetic effects (COMT Val158Met and BDNF Val66Met) on experimental pain were moderated by the presence of chronic pain. In the presence of chronic pain, the COMT Met allele and the BDNF Met allele augmented cortical pain processing, whilst reducing pain processing in pain-free controls. No significant effects were found concerning the OPRM1 A118G polymorphism.
The current study suggests that chronic experience of pain enhances genetic sensitivity to experimentally induced mildly painful stimuli, possibly through a process of epigenetic modification.
Low perceived social acceptance is a significant risk factor for emotional difficulties in children. No studies, however, have examined genetic factors that may underlie individual differences in perceived social acceptance. In the present study we examined the relation between polymorphisms on the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met and serotonin transporter promoter (5-HTTLPR) genes and perceived social acceptance in 103 adolescent girls. Only the COMT polymorphism was related to perceived social acceptance: Val-allele carriers reported greater perceived social acceptance than did homozygous Met-allele carriers. In a subsample of these participants, homozygous Val-allele carriers reported greater maintenance of positive emotions during stress. This, in turn, predicted social acceptance, suggesting that COMT exerts its effects on social functioning through emotion regulation. These data are the first to show an association between COMT and social functioning in children. Future research might profitably examine emotion regulation as a mediator between COMT and social acceptance.
AKT1-dependent molecular pathways control diverse aspects of cellular development and adaptation, including interactions with neuronal dopaminergic signaling. If AKT1 has an impact on dopaminergic signaling, then genetic variation in AKT1 would be associated with brain phenotypes related to cortical dopaminergic function. Here, we provide evidence that a coding variation in AKT1 that affects protein expression in human B lymphoblasts influenced several brain measures related to dopaminergic function. Cognitive performance linked to frontostriatal circuitry, prefrontal physiology during executive function, and frontostriatal gray-matter volume on MRI were altered in subjects with the AKT1 variation. Moreover, on neuroimaging measures with a main effect of the AKT1 genotype, there was significant epistasis with a functional polymorphism (Val158Met) in catechol-O-methyltransferase [COMT], a gene that indexes cortical synaptic dopamine. This genetic interaction was consistent with the putative role of AKT1 in dopaminergic signaling. Supportive of an earlier tentative association of AKT1 with schizophrenia, we also found that this AKT1 variant was associated with risk for schizophrenia. These data implicate AKT1 in modulating human prefrontal-striatal structure and function and suggest that the mechanism of this effect may be coupled to dopaminergic signaling and relevant to the expression of psychosis.
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.
Resting state network; Dopamine; Working memory; Prefrontal cortex; Polymorphism; fMRI
Fluid intelligence (gf) influences performance across many cognitive domains. It is affected by both genetic and environmental factors. Tasks tapping gf activate a network of brain regions including the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC), the presupplementary motor area/anterior cingulate cortex (pre-SMA/ACC), and the intraparietal sulcus (IPS). In line with the “intermediate phenotype” approach, we assessed effects of a polymorphism (val158met) in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene on activity within this network and on actual task performance during spatial and verbal gf tasks. COMT regulates catecholaminergic signaling in prefrontal cortex. The val158 allele is associated with higher COMT activity than the met158 allele. Twenty-two volunteers genotyped for the COMT val158met polymorphism completed high and low gf versions of spatial and verbal problem-solving tasks. Our results showed a positive effect of COMT val allele load upon the blood oxygen level–dependent response in LPFC, pre-SMA/ACC, and IPS during high gf versus low gf task performance in both spatial and verbal domains. These results indicate an influence of the COMT val158met polymorphism upon the neural circuitry supporting gf. The behavioral effects of val allele load differed inside and outside the scanner, consistent with contextual modulation of the relation between COMT val158met genotype and gf task performance.
COMT; fMRI; g; genotype; intelligence; prefrontal cortex
The functional polymorphism Val158Met in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene has been associated with differences in prefrontal cognitive functions in patients with schizophrenia and healthy individuals. Several studies have indicated that the Met allele is associated with better performance on measures of cognitive function. We investigated whether the COMT Val158Met genotype was associated with cognitive function in 149 healthy controls and 118 patients with schizophrenia.
Cognitive function, including verbal memory, working memory, motor speed, attention, executive function and verbal fluency, was assessed by the Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrenia (BACS-J). We employed a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and a multiple regression analysis to determine the associations between the COMT Val158Met genotype and the BACS-J measurements.
The one-way ANOVA revealed a significant difference in the scores on the Tower of London, a measure of executive function, between the different Val158Met genotypes in the healthy controls (p = 0.023), and a post-hoc analysis showed significant differences between the scores on the Tower of London in the val/val genotype group (18.6 ± 2.4) compared to the other two groups (17.6 ± 2.7 for val/met and 17.1 ± 3.2 for met/met; p = 0.027 and p = 0.024, respectively). Multiple regression analyses revealed that executive function was significantly correlated with the Val158Met genotype (p = 0.003). However, no evidence was found for an effect of the COMT on any cognitive domains of the BACS-J in the patients with schizophrenia.
These data support the hypothesis that the COMT Val158Met genotype maintains an optimal level of dopamine activity. Further studies should be performed that include a larger sample size and include patients on and off medication, as these patients would help to confirm our findings.
The catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) enzyme catabolizes dopamine. The val158met single nucleotide polymorphism (rs4680) in the COMT gene has received considerable attention as a candidate gene for schizophrenia as well as for frontally mediated cognitive functions. Antisaccade performance is a good measure of frontal lobe integrity. Deficits on the task are considered a trait marker for schizophrenia. The aim of this study was to investigate the association of COMT val158met polymorphism with antisaccade eye movements in schizophrenia patients and healthy controls. Schizophrenia patients (N = 105) and healthy controls (N = 95) underwent infrared oculographic assessment of antisaccades. Subjects were genotyped for COMT val158met and divided into 3 groups according to genotype (val/val, val/met, and met/met). Patients displayed significantly more reflexive errors, longer and more variable latency, and lower amplitude gain than controls (all P < 0.02). A greater number of val158 alleles was associated with shorter (P = 0.045) and less variable (P = 0.028) antisaccade latency and, nonsignificantly, with lower reflexive error rate (P = 0.056). None of these variables showed a group-by-genotype interaction (P > 0.1). There were no significant associations of genotype with measures of amplitude gain or spatial error (P > 0.2). The results suggest that COMT val158 carrier status is associated with better performance on the antisaccade task. Possible explanations of this finding are discussed.
COMT val158met polymorphism; dopamine; oculomotor; antisaccade; schizophrenia; endophenotype
Executive functions (EF) evidence significant age-related declines, but the mechanisms underpinning those changes are unclear. In this study, we focus on two potential sources of variation: a physiological indicator of vascular health, and genetic variants related to vascular functions. In a sample of healthy adults (n = 158, ages 18–81), we examine the effects of age, pulse pressure, and two polymorphisms (comt val158met and ace insertion/deletion) on working memory and cognitive flexibility. Results indicate that in addition to often-replicated age differences, the alleles of two polymorphisms that promote vasoconstriction (comt val and ace D) and reduced availability of dopamine in neocortical synapses (comt val), negatively impact virtually all aspects of EF tasks that involve working memory. In some cases, suppression of cognitive performance is limited to men or necessitates a combination of both risk-associated alleles. After accounting for genetic and age-related variation, pulse pressure had no additional effect on EF. These findings suggest that in healthy adults, the effects of genetic risk factors significantly modulate the course of cognitive aging.
aging; working memory; ACE; COMT; vascular risk; polymorphism
Although prominent personality theories postulate orthogonality between traits of positive emotionality (PEM) and negative emotionality (NEM), empirical evidence often demonstrates the opposite indicating a negative relationship. Therefore, it is not surprising that dopaminergic (DA) gene loci have been related to traits of positive and of NEM. The present genetic association study investigates the influence of two functional DA gene polymorphisms on Sadness as defined by the Affective Neuroscience Personality Scales (ANPS) in healthy Caucasians (n = 1041). We observed a significant interaction effect between the 10-repeat (10R) allele of the dopamine transporter (DAT1) gene and the methionine (Met) allele of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met polymorphism (F(1,1018) = 11.11; P < 0.001). Carriers of the 9R/9R and the Val/Val genotype showed dramatically reduced Sadness scores in comparison to the other three genotype configurations. Both the 9R/9R and the Val/Val genotypes characterized by reduced transporter density and high dopamine catabolism, respectively, have been separately related to personality traits of PEM and externalizing behavior in the past. The present findings indicate that gene variations of the DA system previously associated with PEM are at the same time protective against high NEM and can therefore constitute a resilience factor against depression.
ANPS; COMT Val158Met; DAT1 VNTR; Dopamine; Negative emotionality; Sadness
Catechol-O-methyltransferease (COMT) metabolizes prefrontal cortex dopamine (DA), a neurotransmitter involved in executive behavior; the Val158Met genotype has been linked to executive dysfunction, which might increase sexual risk behaviors favoring HIV transmission. Main and interaction effects of COMT genotype and executive functioning on sexual risk behavior were examined. 192 sexually active nonmonogamous men completed a sexual behavior questionnaire, executive functioning tests, and were genotyped using blood-derived DNA. Main effects for executive dysfunction but not COMT on number of sexual partners were observed. A COMT x executive dysfunction interaction was found for number of sexual partners and insertive anal sex, significant for carriers of the Met/Met and to a lesser extent Val/Met genotypes but not Val/Val carriers. In the context of HIV and methamphetamine dependence, dopaminergic overactivity in prefrontal cortex conferred by the Met/Met genotype appears to result in a liability for executive dysfunction and potentially associated risky sexual behavior.
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.
brain-derived neurotrophic factor; val66met; olfaction; odor identification; aging
Levels of extra-synaptic dopamine in the brain vary as a function of polymorphisms at the Val158Met locus of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene. In vivo studies of this polymorphism in the human brain have typically measured patterns of neural activation during dopamine-mediated tasks in adults. This study is the first to investigate the effects of COMT on brain physiology during rest and in children. We used flow-sensitive arterial spin labeling (ASL) magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain blood flow (CBF) in 42 children. Compared with val-allele carriers, met-allele homozygotes exhibited greater CBF in mesolimbic, mesocortical, and nigrostriatal dopamine (DA) pathways. Higher CBF in DA-rich brain structures reflects COMT-related baseline differences that (1) underlie the selective behavioral advantages associated with each genotype; (2) affect interpretations of previously reported genotype differences in BOLD signal changes; and (3) serve as a foundation for future studies on the effects of COMT on brain development.
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.
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.
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.
The relationship between cognition and a functional polymorphism in the catechol-O-methlytransferase (COMT) gene, val108/158met, is one of debate in the literature. Furthermore, based on the dopaminergic differences associated with the COMT val108/158met genotype, neural differences during cognition may be present, regardless of genotypic differences in cognitive performance. To investigate these issues the current study aimed to 1) examine the effects of COMT genotype using a large sample of healthy individuals (n = 496–1218) and multiple cognitive measures, and using a subset of the sample (n = 22), 2) examine whether COMT genotype effects medial temporal lobe (MTL) and frontal activity during successful relational memory processing, and 3) investigate group differences in functional connectivity associated with successful relational memory processing. Results revealed no significant group difference in cognitive performance between COMT genotypes in any of the 19 cognitive measures. However, in the subset sample, COMT val homozygotes exhibited significantly decreased MTL and increased prefrontal activity during both successful relational encoding and retrieval, and reduced connectivity between these regions compared with met homozygotes. Taken together, the results suggest that although the COMT val108/158met genotype has no effect on cognitive behavioral measures in healthy individuals, it is associated with differences in neural process underlying cognitive output.
COMT; fMRI; genetic neuroimaging; relational memory
Rationale and objective
A form of impulsivity, the tendency to choose immediate over delayed rewards (delay-discounting) has been associated with a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene (COMTval158met; rs4680). However, existing data regarding the nature of this association conflicts. We have previously reported that adults homozygous for valine (val) at the COMTval158met SNP demonstrate greater delay-discounting than do methionine (met) allele carriers (Boettiger et al. 2007). In contrast, a recent study of adolescent males found that those with the met/met genotype demonstrate greater delay-discounting than do val-allele carriers (Paloyelis et al. 2010). Based on reported age-related changes in frontal dopamine function and COMT expression, we hypothesized that the association of COMT genotype with delay-discounting behavior is modulated by age from late adolescence to young adulthood.
To test this hypothesis, we genotyped late adolescents (18–21 years; n=72) and adults (22–40 years; n=70) for the COMTval158met polymorphism, measured their delay-discounting behavior, and tested for an interaction between age group and COMT genotype.
This cross-sectional study found that age modulates COMTval158met genotype effects on delay-discounting behavior. Among met-carriers, delay-discounting was negatively correlated with age from late adolescence to adulthood, while among val/val individuals delay-discounting was positively correlated with age across this range.
These results confirm our previous finding of enhanced delay-discounting among val/val adults relative to met-allele carriers, and help reconcile existing literature. We propose a single U-shaped model of the relationship between frontal DA levels and impulsive choice that accounts for both adolescent and adult data.
adolescence; decision-making; delay discounting; development; dopamine; impulsivity
The role of the prefrontal Cortex (PFC) in higher cognitive functions – including working memory, conflict resolution, set shifting and semantic processing – has been demonstrated unequivocally. Despite the great heterogeneity among tasks measuring these phenotypes, due in part to the different cognitive sub-processes implied and the specificity of the stimulus material used, there is agreement that all of these tasks recruit an executive control system located in the PFC. On a biochemical level it is known that the dopaminergic system plays an important role in executive control functions. Evidence comes from molecular genetics relating the functional COMT Val158Met polymorphism to working memory and set shifting. In order determine whether this pattern of findings generalises to linguistic and semantic processing, we investigated the effects of the COMT Val158Met polymorphism in lexical decision making using masked and unmasked versions of the semantic priming paradigm on N = 104 healthy subjects. Although we observed strong priming effects in all conditions (masked priming, unmasked priming with short/long stimulus asynchronies (SOAs), direct and indirect priming), COMT was not significantly related to priming, suggesting no reliable influence on semantic processing. However, COMT Val158Met was strongly associated with lexical decision latencies in all priming conditions if considered separately, explaining between 9 and 14.5% of the variance. Therefore, the findings indicate that COMT mainly influences more general executive control functions in the PFC supporting the speed of lexical decisions.
semantic priming; executive control; catechol-O-methyltransferase; COMT Val158Met polymorphism; prefrontal cortex