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J Neurosci. 2008 Aug 27;28(35):8709-23. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2077-08.2008.

Genetic dissection of the role of catechol-O-methyltransferase in cognition and stress reactivity in mice.

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Clinical Brain Disorders Branch, Genes, Cognition and Psychosis Program, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


The COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase) gene has been linked to a spectrum of human phenotypes, including cognition, anxiety, pain sensitivity and psychosis. Doubts about its clinical impact exist, however, because of the complexity of human COMT polymorphism and clinical variability. We generated transgenic mice overexpressing a human COMT-Val polymorphism (Val-tg), and compared them with mice containing a null COMT mutation. Increased COMT enzyme activity in Val-tg mice resulted in disrupted attentional set-shifting abilities, and impaired working and recognition memory, but blunted stress responses and pain sensitivity. Conversely, COMT disruption improved working memory, but increased stress responses and pain sensitivity. Amphetamine ameliorated recognition memory deficits in COMT-Val-tg mice but disrupted it in wild types, illustrating COMT modulation of the inverted-U relationship between cognition and dopamine. COMT-Val-tg mice showed increased prefrontal cortex (PFC) calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) levels, whereas COMT deficiency decreased PFC CaMKII but increased PFC CaMKKbeta and CaMKIV levels, suggesting the involvement of PFC CaMK pathways in COMT-regulated cognitive function and adaptive stress responses. Our data indicate a critical role for the COMT gene in an apparent evolutionary trade-off between cognitive and affective functions.

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