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Neuroscience. 2009 Nov 24;164(1):72-87. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.05.014. Epub 2009 May 13.

Genes, cognition and brain through a COMT lens.

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  • 1Clinical Brain Disorders Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Various genes are known to modulate the delicate balance of dopamine in prefrontal cortex and influence cortical information processing. Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) on chromosome 22q11 is the most widely studied of these genes. Val158Met, a common, functional variant in the coding sequence that increases or decreases the enzymatic activity of the gene has been shown to impact the efficiency of prefrontally-mediated cognition, specifically executive functioning, working memory, fluid intelligence and attentional control. We review the rapidly evolving literature exploring the association between COMT genotype and cognitive performance, and illustrate how this polymorphism has served a pivotal role in characterizing various interacting dimensions of complexity in the relationship between genes and cognition. We review how Val158Met has been used to help develop and validate behavioral and neurophysiological phenotypes, as a critical tool in dissecting overlapping neural functional systems and exploring interactions within and between genes, and in exploring how gene effects on cognition are modulated by environmental, demographic and developmental factors. Despite the impressive range of findings, the COMT story is also a bracing reminder of how much work remains to translate this knowledge into practical clinical applications.

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