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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Aug;28(8):1521-30. Epub 2003 Jun 11.

Catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) mRNA expression in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of patients with schizophrenia.

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Clinical Brain Disorders Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Human prefrontal cortical neurons express catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that inactivates the neurotransmitter dopamine. A functional polymorphism of COMT, Val(108/158) Met, affects prefrontal function, and the high-activity Val allele has been reported to be a genetic risk factor for schizophrenia. We used in situ hybridization histochemistry to measure mRNA levels of COMT in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of patients with schizophrenia (N=14) and of normal controls (N=15). While the groups did not differ in terms of mean level of COMT mRNA, there was a significantly different laminar pattern of COMT mRNA expression in pyramidal neurons (F=2.68, df=4,108, P <0.04); patients with schizophrenia had relatively lower levels in the superficial (II/III) layers and higher levels in the intermediate/deep (IV/V) layers (P&<0.01), while in controls, the expression was homogeneous across layers. Neither the mean level nor the laminar distribution of COMT mRNA was related to the Val(108/158) Met genotype, suggesting that the feedback regulation of mRNA level is not a compensation for the functional effect of the COMT polymorphism. The disease-related laminar difference of COMT expression may be involved in dysregulation of dopamine signaling circuits in the DLPFC of patients with schizophrenia.

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