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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2019 Jan 8. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djy204. [Epub ahead of print]

COMT and Alpha-Tocopherol Effects in Cancer Prevention: Gene-Supplement Interactions in Two Randomized Clinical Trials.

Author information

Divisions of Preventive Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA.
Cardiovascular Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD.



Vitamins are among the most frequently used supplements (48% of US adults). However, little is known about contributions of genetic variation to their efficacy and safety. Multiple pathways link catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) to the vitamin E supplement, alpha-tocopherol, and cancer.


Here we determined if COMT exerted pharmacogenetic effects on cancer prevention in two randomized trials of alpha-tocopherol supplementation. Pharmacogenetic effects of common COMT rs4680 (val158met), which encodes a nonsynonymous valine-to-methionine substitution, were examined in the trial plus a 10-year post-trial follow-up (overall) period of The Women's Genome Health Study (WGHS, N = 23 294), a 10-year alpha-tocopherol and aspirin trial with 10 years post-trial follow-up. Results were validated in a case/control (N = 2396/2235) subset of the Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study (ATBC, N = 29 133). The primary outcome was total cancers. Rates of cancer types prevalent in women (colorectal, breast, lung, uterine, and lymphoma/leukemia) were also examined. All statistical tests were two-sided.


Random-effects meta-analysis of rs4680 genotype strata, in WGHS and ATBC overall periods, revealed differential alpha-tocopherol effects compared with placebo: met/met (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.88; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.80 to 0.97; P = .01), val/met (HR = 0.99; 95% CI = 0.92 to 1.06; P = .74), and val/val (HR = 1.18; 95% CI = 1.06 to 1.31; P = .002) with a statistically significant COMT by alpha-tocopherol interaction (Pinteraction <.001). Timing of effects differed, with stronger effects in WGHS trial and ATBC post-trial.


Pharmacogenetic analysis of COMT and cancer prevention in two large randomized trials revealed statistically significant COMT by alpha-tocopherol interaction, such that alpha-tocopherol was beneficial among rs4680 met-allele (28.0%), but not val-allele (22.8%) homozygotes. These effects indicate the need for additional studies of genetic variation as a determinant of the benefits and possible harms of over-the-counter supplements, like alpha-tocopherol, used for health promotion.

[Available on 2020-01-08]

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