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J Cogn Neurosci. 2009 Nov;21(11):2139-53. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.21164.

Both a nicotinic single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and a noradrenergic SNP modulate working memory performance when attention is manipulated.

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George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030-4444, USA.


We investigated the relation between the two systems of visuospatial attention and working memory by examining the effect of normal variation in cholinergic and noradrenergic genes on working memory performance under attentional manipulation. We previously reported that working memory for location was impaired following large location precues, indicating the scale of visuospatial attention has a role in forming the mental representation of the target. In one of the first studies to compare effects of two single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on the same cognitive task, we investigated the neurotransmission systems underlying interactions between attention and memory. Based on our previous report that the CHRNA4 rs#1044396 C/T nicotinic receptor SNP affected visuospatial attention, but not working memory, and the DBH rs#1108580 G/A noradrenergic enzyme SNP affected working memory, but not attention, we predicted that both SNPs would modulate performance when the two systems interacted and working memory was manipulated by attention. We found the scale of visuospatial attention deployed around a target affected memory for location of that target. Memory performance was modulated by the two SNPs. CHRNA4 C/C homozygotes and DBH G allele carriers showed the best memory performance but also the greatest benefit of visuospatial attention on memory. Overall, however, the CHRNA4 SNP exerted a stronger effect than the DBH SNP on memory performance when visuospatial attention was manipulated. This evidence of an integrated cholinergic influence on working memory performance under attentional manipulation is consistent with the view that working memory and visuospatial attention are separate systems which can interact.

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