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      The catechol-O-methyltransferase polymorphism: relations to the tonic-phasic dopamine hypothesis and neuropsychiatric phenotypes.

      Neuropsychopharmacology

      Catechol O-Methyltransferase, genetics, metabolism, Dopamine, Humans, physiology, Mental Disorders, enzymology, Phenotype, Polymorphism, Genetic, Animals

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          Abstract

          Diverse phenotypic associations with the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met polymorphism have been reported. We suggest that some of the complex effects of this polymorphism be understood from the perspective of the tonic-phasic dopamine (DA) hypothesis. We hypothesize that the COMT Met allele (associated with low enzyme activity) results in increased levels of tonic DA and reciprocal reductions in phasic DA in subcortical regions and increased D1 transmission cortically. This pattern of effects is hypothesized to yield increased stability but decreased flexibility of neural network activation states that underlie important aspects of working memory and executive functions; these effects may be beneficial or detrimental depending on the phenotype, a range of endogenous factors, and environmental exigencies. The literature on phenotypic associations of the COMT Val158Met polymorphism is reviewed, highlighting areas where this hypothesis may have explanatory value, and pointing to possible directions for refinement of relevant phenotypes and experimental evaluation of this hypothesis.

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          Most cited references 140

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          Cellular basis of working memory

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            Getting formal with dopamine and reward.

            Recent neurophysiological studies reveal that neurons in certain brain structures carry specific signals about past and future rewards. Dopamine neurons display a short-latency, phasic reward signal indicating the difference between actual and predicted rewards. The signal is useful for enhancing neuronal processing and learning behavioral reactions. It is distinctly different from dopamine's tonic enabling of numerous behavioral processes. Neurons in the striatum, frontal cortex, and amygdala also process reward information but provide more differentiated information for identifying and anticipating rewards and organizing goal-directed behavior. The different reward signals have complementary functions, and the optimal use of rewards in voluntary behavior would benefit from interactions between the signals. Addictive psychostimulant drugs may exert their action by amplifying the dopamine reward signal.
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              Effect of COMT Val108/158 Met genotype on frontal lobe function and risk for schizophrenia.

              Abnormalities of prefrontal cortical function are prominent features of schizophrenia and have been associated with genetic risk, suggesting that susceptibility genes for schizophrenia may impact on the molecular mechanisms of prefrontal function. A potential susceptibility mechanism involves regulation of prefrontal dopamine, which modulates the response of prefrontal neurons during working memory. We examined the relationship of a common functional polymorphism (Val(108/158) Met) in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, which accounts for a 4-fold variation in enzyme activity and dopamine catabolism, with both prefrontally mediated cognition and prefrontal cortical physiology. In 175 patients with schizophrenia, 219 unaffected siblings, and 55 controls, COMT genotype was related in allele dosage fashion to performance on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test of executive cognition and explained 4% of variance (P = 0.001) in frequency of perseverative errors. Consistent with other evidence that dopamine enhances prefrontal neuronal function, the load of the low-activity Met allele predicted enhanced cognitive performance. We then examined the effect of COMT genotype on prefrontal physiology during a working memory task in three separate subgroups (n = 11-16) assayed with functional MRI. Met allele load consistently predicted a more efficient physiological response in prefrontal cortex. Finally, in a family-based association analysis of 104 trios, we found a significant increase in transmission of the Val allele to the schizophrenic offspring. These data suggest that the COMT Val allele, because it increases prefrontal dopamine catabolism, impairs prefrontal cognition and physiology, and by this mechanism slightly increases risk for schizophrenia.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                15305167
                10.1038/sj.npp.1300542

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