Impact of catechol-O-methyltransferase on prefrontal brain functioning in schizophrenia spectrum disorders

Ann-Christine Ehlis, Andreas Reif, Martin J Herrmann, Klaus-Peter Lesch, Andreas J Fallgatter
Neuropsychopharmacology 2007, 32 (1): 162-70
The enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) has attracted increasing interest regarding a genetic disposition towards schizophrenias and as a modulator of prefrontal brain function. A common SNP in the COMT gene causes a Val to Met transition at AA158/AA108 (Val158Met), resulting in reduced COMT activity in Met allele carriers. An impact of COMT genotype on cognition has been well established; however, the exact nature of this influence has yet to be elucidated. The aim of this study was to determine whether COMT genotype affects an electrophysiological marker of prefrontal activation and neuropsychological frontal lobe measures in schizophrenia. To this end, 56 acutely psychotic in-patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders were investigated. Patients with the COMT 1947AA (Met/Met) genotype (n=13) were compared to a carefully matched sample of patients with a G1947A (Val/Met) genotype (n=15); matching criteria included patients' age, handedness, gender distribution, diagnosis, and medication status. A small group of six homozygous Val allele carriers was additionally included to allow an assessment of possible gene-dosage effects. P300 amplitudes and latencies, as well as an electrophysiological marker of prefrontal brain function (NoGo-Anteriorization/NGA) and neuropsychological measures (Stroop Test, Verbal Fluency, Trail Making Test) were regarded. Homozygous Met allele carriers had significantly increased NGA values and fronto-central Nogo amplitudes compared to patients with at least one Val allele. They also tended to perform better in the Stroop task, as compared to the matched group of Val/Met patients. These results indicate that COMT genotype exerts a strong impact on prefrontal functioning and executive control in schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

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